Asian shares recover after Bernanke calms nerves

TOKYO Wed Feb 27, 2013 12:16pm IST

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on ''The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress.'' in Washington February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on ''The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress.'' in Washington February 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares rebounded on Wednesday, drawing enough strength from solid U.S. data and the Federal Reserve's rededication to monetary stimulus to take Italy's political gridlock in stride.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.5 percent after shedding 1.2 percent to a seven-week low the previous session, led by a 0.7 percent rise in Australian shares and a fresh record for Indonesian stocks.

"With events in the U.S. overnight providing peace of mind, the Australian index was again able to make forward progress," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets.

Italy's main FTSE MIB stock market index is expected to open up 0.9 percent, while other European markets are also seen rebounding from Tuesday's sharp decline, with financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100, Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX would open as much as 0.3 percent higher.

U.S. stock futures were down 0.1 percent, however, to point to a softer Wall Street start.

U.S. Treasuries in Asia firmed slightly, pinning benchmark 10-year yields near one-month lows as investors kept their safe-haven demand intact.

"With no clear indication of a straightforward answer, the big question is how long the (Italian) government will be held in this state of deadlock. And how long therefore, the markets will suffer," said Edward Bland at Duncan Lawrie Private Bank.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke strongly defended the Fed's bond-buying stimulus before Congress on Tuesday, assuaging worries that monetary policymakers might be getting cold feet.

U.S. data on Tuesday painted a positive growth outlook, with new home sales jumping to a 4 1/2-year high in January, while U.S. consumer confidence rose more than expected this month.

Japan's Nikkei stock average .N225 closed down 1.3 percent as the yen firmed and hurt exporters.

U.S. crude rose 0.1 percent to $92.71 a barrel, bouncing off its lowest since January 4 of $91.92 hit on Tuesday, but Brent eased 0.1 percent to $112.58.

London copper rose 0.5 percent to $7,900 a tonne while spot gold eased 0.2 percent to $1,609 an ounce.

ITALY FALLOUT EYED

Italy's election gave no political party a parliamentary majority, posing the threat of prolonged instability in the euro zone's third-largest economy and potentially reigniting the currency bloc's debt crisis.

Rome's 10-year bond yields rose to their highest since mid-December of 4.90 percent.

Such "risk-off" sentiment has not yet spread completely, with risk currencies such as the South African rand and the New Zealand dollar showing a relatively limited drop compared to sharp swings in major currencies such as the euro, analysts said.

They noted that if the spread between Italian and German 10-year yields were to exceed 400 basis points, it would signal full-fledged risk aversion stirred by Italy.

"It is one thing to have a surge in yields on Italy debt; it is another thing to talk about a bailout of Italy and we are not close to anything like that, at this time. It's just a massive repricing event," said Richard Hastings, macro strategist at Global Hunter Securities.

The euro steadied around $1.3065, above a seven-week low of $1.3018 on Tuesday.

The yen firmed 0.3 percent against the dollar to 91.70. The yen hit its lowest since May 2010 of 94.77 on Monday before the outcome of the Italian vote rattled financial markets and sent the yen soaring to 90.85 yen. The yen was also up 0.2 percent against the euro to 119.80 after jumping to 118.74 on Monday from its day's low of 125.36.

Traders have said the rapid pace of yen weakening over the past three months has probably paused, with markets looking for a fresh catalyst -- including the Bank of Japan's actual rather than proposed unconventional easing steps, and Japanese investors buying foreign assets.

"The money flows into short yen trades are slowing, and the risk of losing on short yen action has increased significantly in recent days," Hastings said.

But the yen's latest rebound of about two yen suggested that investors were still betting on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's aggressively reflationary "Abenomics" policy mix.

"It was largely investors adjusting positions after U.S. stocks had rallied without a sense of caution and the yen steadily fell," said Yunosuke Ikeda, a senior FX strategist at Nomura Securities.

A key factor underpinning the dollar/yen is the limited drop in U.S. Treasury yields, with benchmark 10-year yields trading around 1.88 percent, he said.

Ikeda estimated that expectations for "Abenomics" gains have accounted for about 10 yen of a roughly 14-yen slide against the dollar in the last three months, while 2 yen each was attributable to improving global sentiment and Japan's deteriorating trade balances.

(Additional reporting by Thuy Ong in Sydney; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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