Asian markets were generally down on Monday after US lawmakers failed to prevent the imposition of $85 billion (Dh312 billion) in spending cuts that kicked in at the end of last week.
Chinese shares suffered the biggest sell-off, with property developers hit by measures to cool the housing market, but Tokyo enjoyed modest gains as the man tapped to become Japan’s top central banker vowed to tackle deflation.
Shanghai lost 3.65 per cent, or 86.10 points, to end at 2,273.40, Sydney slipped 1.49 per cent, or 75.6 points, to 5,010.5, and Seoul was off 0.66 per cent, or 13.34 points, at 2,013.15. Hong Kong lost 1.50 per cent, shedding 342.41 points to 22,537.81.
Tokyo put on 0.40 per cent, or 45.91 points, to close at 11,652.29.US politicians traded barbs over the weekend after the ‘sequester’ of deep federal spending cuts that kicked in on Friday, with most economists warning that it will lead to rising unemployment and dent economic growth.
The White House said on Sunday that as voters start to feel the pain, Republicans will pivot and seek compromise. But the Republicans did not sound like they were in any mood to budge, with the party’s Senate leader Mitch McConnell saying the American people understood it was time for belt-tightening.
There had been hope that Democrats and Republicans would be able to reach a compromise to cut the budget that would not be as painful, but last-minute talks failed on Thursday.
However, despite the lack of movement in Washington, investors are confident a deal will eventually be made. Wall Street got a boost after fresh data that showed consumer spending rose in January at double the rate of December, despite lower personal income.
There was further cheer from a report that showed US manufacturing activity hit the highest level since mid-2011. The Dow jumped 0.25 per cent to within sight of its all-time high in October 2007, before the onset of the global financial crisis. The broad-based S&P 500 was up 0.23 per cent and the Nasdaq gained 0.30 per cent.
On currency markets, the dollar, which enjoyed a strong rally in New York, eased slightly to 93.50 yen in Tokyo against 93.59 yen late on Friday despite a pledge from Haruhiko Kuroda, the government’s nominee to lead the Bank of Japan, to do “everything possible” to conquer deflation.
Kuroda, widely expected to be confirmed by parliament as Japan’s top central banker in the coming weeks, dismissed the bank’s current 101 trillion yen asset-buying programme as “not enough”.
He added that if he is appointed, achieving the bank’s recently set two per cent inflation target “at the earliest time is my most important duty”.
His vow signalled the possibility of more aggressive monetary easing and similar statements by Japanese leaders in recent weeks have sent the yen tumbling in a boost for exporters as their products become more competitive.
But Minori Uchida, chief currency analyst at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, said: “His comments initially helped drive the yen weaker, but then investors realised he wasn’t saying anything particularly new and it led to a buyback.”
The euro bought $1.3005 and 121.66 yen, compared with $1.3027 and 121.92 yen.
Chinese shares took a beating, with property plays worst hit, after Beijing on Friday announced measures to cap prices. These included higher downpayments and mortgage rates for buyers of second homes in some cities, as well as making homeowners who sell their properties pay a capital gains tax of 20 per cent on their profits.
“The measures are a big blow to property stocks,” Amy Lin, analyst at Capital Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires. “The implementation of [the] capital tax on property transactions will definitely affect housing demand.”
Oil prices were lower. New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April dropped 52 cents to $90.16 a barrel in the afternoon and Brent North Sea crude for April delivery shed 30 cents to $110.10.
Gold was at $1,577.65 at 1045GMT (2.45pm UAE) compared with $1,571.29 late Friday.
Taipei fell 1.22 per cent, or 97.29 points, to 7,867.34. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co shed 2.86 per cent at Tw$102.0 while Hon Hai Precision was 1.35 per cent lower at Tw$80.5. Manila ended flat, dipping 4.71 points to 6,637.56. Wellington fell 1.49 per cent, or 64.39 points, to 4,253.60.
Telecom was off 1.9 per cent at NZ$2.33 and Chorus slipped 1.38 per cent to NZ$2.86. Singapore fell 0.90 per cent, or 29.55 points, to 3,239.95.
United Overseas Bank gained 0.68 per cent to Sg$19.28 while real estate giant Capitaland dropped 3.63 per cent to Sg$3.72. Jakarta lost 1.04 per cent, or 50.15 points, to 4,761.46.