Asian shares tentative as growth concerns cloud G20 meet

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Asian shares were mixed on Thursday, with Tokyo taking heart from a rebound in oil prices while Asian shares were mixed on Thursday, with Tokyo taking heart from a rebound in oil pricee growth concerns weighed on other markets ahead of a meeting of G20 officials.

Energy and materials companies led Wall Street higher on Wednesday, as a rise in crude prices helped US stocks claw back ground from their biggest fall in two weeks earlier in the session.

The gains helped Japanese shares gain in early deals, as investors sold the safe haven yen and went bargain hunting among exporters that have been hard-hit by its recent strength.

But Chinese equities fell as concerns about the health of Asia's largest economy mounted ahead of a meeting of the Group of 20 rich countries starting Friday in Shanghai.

"You need to see some settling in the oil price and maybe we're getting there on that one," Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy in Sydney at AMP Capital Investors, told Bloomberg News.

"The volatility reflects the range of views out there and the uncertainty that surrounds the economic outlook."

Cooling growth in Asia's largest economy, a key importer of raw materials, has sent commodity and energy prices spinning and saw global stocks notch one of their worst starts to a year in living memory.

The Asian regional shares benchmark, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index, has been at its most volatile in four years over the past month, according to Bloomberg News.

Falling commodity prices have hurt exporters like Australia, whose currency slumped 0.5 percent on Thursday on news that companies are planning to invest their least in nine years.

Safe haven gold, however, continued to advance on Thursday for a third day, heading for its longest run of gains in more than two weeks.

- 'Highly vulnerable' -

Adding to the concerns, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday the world economy is "highly vulnerable," and said it would likely cut its 2016 growth forecast of 3.4 percent.

The IMF report, to be presented in Shanghai, adds to pressure on central bankers to unleash fresh monetary firepower to help stimulate growth and reassure investors.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Law has said G20 finance ministers will not deliver an "emergency response" to the market turmoil this week, as the world was not in crisis mode just yet.

"It would be nice to see some collective statement from the major central banks that they're aware of the problems," said Oliver.

"I don't hold out a lot of hope. We're not in enough of a crisis yet to see a crisis response."

Reflecting the concerns, oil prices eased in Asia on Thursday, resuming their downward trend after news that US gasoline stocks fell helped revive prices in the previous session.

Crude has fallen more than 13 percent this year on concerns of a lasting global supply glut. News that Iran and Saudi Arabia would not be willing to curtail production saw prices plunge on Tuesday.

The US benchmark contract for delivery in April fell 5 cents, or 0.16 percent, to $32.10 in Asian trading on Thursday, while Brent crude for April fell 10 cents, or 0.29 percent, to $34.31.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.74 percent at 16,033.18 points

Shanghai - composite: DOWN 0.92 percent at 2,901.55 points

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.50 percent at 19,097.42 points

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1020 from $1.1008 on Wednesday

Dollar/yen: FLAT at 112.15 yen from 112.15 yen on Wednesday

New York - Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 16,484.99 points (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.6 percent at 5.867.18 points (close)

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this report --