Asian markets struggle to hold gains, warning of more volatility

Asian markets struggled to hold early gains on Monday (Feb 12) after last week's global rout, with analysts warning of further volatility across trading floors.

After a stellar 2017 and a January that saw record and multi-year highs around the world, traders are scurrying to the hills this month as a strong economic outlook - particularly in the US - healthy corporate earnings and rising inflation have sent borrowing costs surging.

Equity markets, for years buoyed by post-crisis stimulus, have spiralled into the red as traders fret that the era of cheap cash is at an end.

Monday got off to a calm start but while some managed to stay in positive territory, the afternoon saw gains eroded or wiped out.

Hong Kong, which sank more than nine per cent last week, was up 0.7 per cent in the afternoon before a late sell-off saw it close 0.2 per cent lower, though Shanghai closed up 0.8 per cent and Singapore rose 0.2 per cent.

Seoul gained 0.9 per cent, with traders cheered by signs of a thaw in relations between North and South Korea during the Winter Olympics after Kim Jong Un - whose sister attended the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang - invited the South's President Moon Jae-in for a summit in Pyongyang.

Taipei added 0.5 per cent and Bangkok 0.3 per cent but Sydney eased 0.3 per cent and Manila dipped 0.5 per cent. Tokyo was closed for a public holiday.

The gains came after a late rally on Wall Street helped all three main indexes end on a positive note Friday, though still well down over the week.

However, there are expectations that profit-taking will lead to further losses, with Brian Culpepper at James Investment Research warning: "Stocks are extremely expensive."

Eyes are now on the release this week of US inflation figures, which market-watchers say will be key to future movements.


"With powerful US economic signals and interest rates most certainly to rise quicker than expected, last week's tumult could be little more than the start of the equity rollercoaster," said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA.

"Given all this ruckus started with an uptick in the wage growth component from this month's (US jobs report) release, this week's US inflation data will be a monster of a print."

While the week got off to a positive start, energy firms took another hiding after further recent falls in the price of oil due to rising US production and the spillover from the equity market rout.

Both main contracts were up Monday but they are more than 10 per cent down from their highs in January.

Innes added that oil prices could take another hit soon after the head of Russian energy giant Gazprom Neft said last week that producers could adjust their commitments under a Moscow-OPEC output cap deal as soon as next quarter.

"Crude oil prices experienced a disastrous week as US production fears materialised on incremental supply and stockpiles," said Avtar Sandhu, an analyst at Phillip Securities Singapore.

"Prices will face a tough time as US shale producers look set to take advantage of higher margins."

On currency markets, the dollar suffered further selling against the safe-haven yen, while the euro and the pound held their gains against the greenback on expectations of higher borrowing costs in Europe and Britain.

London started 0.9 per cent higher, Paris added 0.8 per cent and Frankfurt rose one per cent.

- Key figures around 0820 GMT -

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.2 per cent at 29,459.63 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.8 per cent at 3,154.13 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for a public holiday

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.9 per cent at 7,153.20

Euro/dollar: UP at US$1.2280 from US$1.2249 at 2200 GMT on Friday

Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.3852 from US$1.3828

Dollar/yen: DOWN at ¥108.62 from ¥108.78 

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 80 cents at US$60. 00 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 77 cents at US$63.56 per barrel

New York - DOW: UP 1.4 per cent at 24,190.90 (close)

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