Asian stocks fell, heading for the first two-day decline since January, and the yen strengthened after data from the U.S. and Europe signaled slowing economic growth. Australia’s bond risk rose to a two-week high.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index declined 1.1 percent as of 2:57 p.m. in Tokyo. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index sank 2.2 percent and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures lost 0.2 percent. The yen added 0.1 percent against the dollar, while Australia’s currency fell against 15 of 16 major counterparts. Copper retreated 0.6 percent for a third day of losses.U.S. factory orders decreased for the first time in three months and euro-area services output shrank more than forecast in February, economic reports showed yesterday, while China cut its economic growth target. South Korea’s government said it will step up policy efforts to support growth amid rising oil prices and Europe’s debt crisis.
“We’ve come so far, so quickly that a little pullback has to be expected,” David Joy, the Boston-based chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial Inc., said in a Bloomberg Television interview. His firm oversees $631 billion. China cutting its growth projection “takes a little wind out of the sails of this euphoria,” he said.
Asian stocks have risen for the past 11 consecutive weeks, pushing the MSCI gauge up 10 percent in 2012. The Asian equity benchmark trades at 14.8 times estimated earnings, near the highest level since May 2010, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
More than two stocks declined for each that rose in the MSCI Asia Pacific Index. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 1.4 percent, Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average slid 0.6 percent and South Korea’s Kospi Index lost 0.8 percent.
AIA Group Ltd. (1299) tumbled 7.9 percent in Hong Kong after American International Group Inc. sold $6 billion of the company’s shares to help repay U.S. government rescue funds. Hang Seng Index volume was more than triple the 30-day average as AIA shares resumed trading after being suspended yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The BSE India Sensitive Index, or Sensex (SENSEX), climbed 1.1 percent on speculation that results of the state elections may not derail the government’s economic agenda. While the ruling Congress party is trailing as votes are counted in two key northern states, winning enough seats in Uttar Pradesh would enable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to secure support in parliament, helping to push through stalled reforms.
Raw-material producers slid 1.9 percent for the biggest drop among 10 industries in the MSCI Asia-Pacific index. (MXAP) BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, slumped 2.3 percent in Australian trading.
Three-month copper fell as much as 0.8 percent to $8,435 a metric ton. Stockpiles of the metal monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange have climbed to the highest since at least January 2003, weekly data showed.
Cotton for delivery in May climbed for a second day after India banned exports, gaining as much as 2.2 percent to 94.24 cents a pound in New York. The contract rallied by the exchange- set daily limit yesterday.
The euro fell 0.2 percent to 107.54 yen for a fifth day of losses before a report forecast to show the region’s economy shrank in fourth quarter. The 17-nation currency has weakened 3.1 percent in the past six months, according to Bloomberg Correlation-Weighted Indexes that track 10 developed-market currencies.
“Buying the euro makes no sense,” said Marito Ueda, a senior managing director in Tokyo at FX Prime Corp., a currency margin company. “The European Central Bank is tied up with tackling the region’s sovereign-debt problem and has no room left to bolster the economy through monetary policy.”
Greece is aiming to complete a bond exchange with private investors by March 8 in order to receive a 130 billion-euro ($172 billion) bailout. The nation expects bondholders to accept the offer and is ready to force them to participate if necessary, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Athens yesterday.
China’s yuan touched a five-week low after the central bank said the currency’s trading band may be widened. The yuan lost as much as 0.2 percent to 6.3189 per dollar, the weakest level since Jan. 31. Asia’s largest economy set a growth target of 7.5 percent for 2012 yesterday.
The Australian dollar retreated 0.5 percent to $1.0617. Central bank Governor Glenn Stevens and his board left the overnight cash-rate target at 4.25 percent, the Reserve Bank of Australia said in a statement today, using a phrase he employed last month by calling policy “appropriate for the moment.” He repeated there is scope to cut rates if demand weakens.
The Markit iTraxx Australia index climbed 2.3 basis points to 145.3 basis points, Deutsche Bank AG prices show. The gauge is set for its highest close since Feb. 17, according to data provider CMA.