Asia shares mostly firm, China sets yuan higher

SYDNEY: Asian shares bounced to snap a five-session losing streak on Monday as a strong fix for China’s yuan eased devaluation concerns and Shanghai stocks returned from the Lunar New Year holidays with only modest losses.


The Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC eased 2.2 percent in its first session since Feb. 5, a relatively benign move given the wild swings seen worldwide recently.

More troubling were the January readings on Chinese trade which showed exports fell 6.6 percent in yuan terms from a year earlier, while imports dived 14.4 percent.

Still, rallies in European bank stocks and on Wall Street on Friday helped soothe jitters enough for MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS to rise 1.2 percent. That follows a loss of almost 4 percent last week.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 added 0.7 percent, while the cash market is closed on Monday for a holiday.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 jumped 4.7 percent to retrace some of last week’s 11 percent drop, the largest such fall since 2008, though sentiment remained fragile.

“Although we consider the violent risk-off move of recent weeks largely unwarranted by economic fundamentals, the sheer magnitude of the sell-off has raised the risk that market volatility could feed back into the real economy,” said Ajay Rajadhyaksha, an economist at Barclays.

“Central banks have very limited ability to ride to the rescue of risk assets.”

Barclays pointed to three sources of volatility that had potential negative feedback loops: lower oil prices, capital outflows and macroeconomic weakness in China, and pressure on European banks.

“Of these, we consider China the biggest medium-term risk, but the least immediate issue,” wrote Rajadhyaksha.

Indeed, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) took the opportunity of the U.S. dollar’s recent decline to fix its yuan at its highest in over a month on Monday CNY=SAEC, hoping to deflect speculation about a possible devaluation.

In an interview over the weekend, PBoC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said there was no basis for the yuan to keep falling, and China would keep it stable versus a basket of currencies while allowing greater volatility against the U.S. dollar.

Figures out over the weekend suggested there was still life in the Chinese consumer with retail sales growing 11.2 percent during the week-long Lunar New Year vacation compared with the same holiday period last year.

Retail figures from the United States out on Friday had also been relatively upbeat and helped calm market jitters a little.

The Dow .DJI ended Friday with a gain of 2 percent, while the S&P 500 .SPX added 1.95 percent and the Nasdaq .IXIC 1.66 percent. The rally snapped a five-day losing streak, but all three indices were still down on the week.

Global oil prices had also surged as much as 12 percent on Friday after a report once again suggested OPEC might finally agree to cut production to reduce the world glut. [O/R]

Early Monday, U.S. crude CLc1 had eased 35 cents to $29.09 a barrel, while Brent crude LCOc1 dipped 45 cents to $32.91.

Oil was aided in part by weakness in the U.S. dollar as a steep drop in Treasury yields undermined the currency’s interest rate differentials.

Against a basket of currencies .DXY, the dollar was up a shade at 96.120 having been at its lowest in almost four months. Likewise, it edged up to 113.68 yen JPY=, having touched a 15-month trough just under 111.00 last week.

The euro was last at $1.1219 EUR=, having slipped from a 3-1/2 month peak of $1.1377.

Gold eased off XAU= to $1,222.80 an ounce, after enjoying its best week in four years.



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