Asia stocks fall as rally fizzles out

Hong Kong (AFP) –


The rally in Asia stocks fizzled out Friday, as a renewed weakening in the price of oil dampened sentiment and safe haven assets such as the yen received a boost.

US crude fell below $31 a barrel as traders digested news that American stockpiles rose to the highest in more than eight decades.

While turbulence in Asian markets has abated this week with losses earlier in the year being partially won back, investors remain on alert over the global glut in crude and China’s economic outlook.

Since the start of the year, tumbling oil prices, concern about the slowdown in Asia's largest economy and a sell-off in bank stocks sent some global stocks into a bear market.

Markets had received welcome support earlier in the week when oil prices jumped Wednesday following a pact between top two producers Russia and Saudi Arabia to pursue a coordinated strategy to limit output.

"Sentiment on the oil market has been a key macro driver for stock-market sentiment recently," Ric Spooner, Sydney-based chief market analyst at CMC Markets, told Bloomberg News.

"Concerns about the potential for credit-market problems in the event of a lower-for-longer oil scenario are near the top of a fairly long list of macro factors worrying investors at the moment."

West Texas Intermediate slipped 0.9 percent after rising in the past two days. Brent also fell 0.9 percent.

Asia markets were also depressed Friday by a fall on Wall Street Thursday, with Tokyo plunging 2.23 percent by the break on Friday as a stronger yen dented exporters.

Analysts noted a strengthening currency -- up to 112.81 yen to the dollar from 113.24 yen Thursday in New York -- could weigh on the profitability of Japanese exporters.

- 'Unpredictability about China' -

"The stronger yen will be a burden on Japanese markets," Hideyuki Ishiguro, a senior strategist at Okasan Securities, told Bloomberg News.

"Investors are concerned at the downside of earnings, especially for exporters, which may weigh down the markets.

"We're not in a place where we can buy. The yen may strengthen further versus the dollar."

The currency has climbed almost five percent since the Bank of Japan surprised traders by imposing negative interest rates last month.

Elsewhere in Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong eased 0.57 percent, while Sydney dropped 0.66 percent and Seoul fell 0.4 percent.

Energy firms fell slightly in Asia, with Sydney-listed Woodside Petroleum down 0.74 percent while CNOOC was 0.15 percent lower in Hong Kong and PetroChina lost 0.15 percent.

In Shanghai stocks were flat, easing 0.05 percent percent amid persistent worries over the flagging economy, dealers said.

People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan was due to speak at a forum in Beijing later Friday as the Chinese authorities renew efforts to build confidence before global policy makers arrive for the Group of 20 meetings in Shanghai next week.

Uncertainty about China's slowdown has added to bearish sentiment in financial markets this year as Beijing has sent mixed signals about managing the currency and stock markets.

"Since last summer's stock market debacle, the market's confidence in Chinese leaders' ability to govern their economy has been badly shaken and it has yet to be repaired," said Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, according to Bloomberg.

"The longer this situation lasts, the greater potential damage the unpredictability about China´s economic situation could have on global markets."

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 2.23 percent at 15,836.23 (break)

Shanghai - composite: DOWN 0.05 percent at 2,861.56.

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.57 percent at 19,253.51

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1125 from $1.1105 on Thursday

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 112.81 from 113.24 yen on Thursday

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.3 percent at 16,413.43 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.0 percent at 5,971.95 points (close)