TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares were mostly in the red on Friday, weighed down by a weak performance on Wall Street and doubts about the strength of the U.S. economy, which pushed bonds higher.
Japan’s benchmark Nikkei fell 1.5 percent and regional markets, with the exception of Wellington and Mumbai, were posting losses.
The MSCI’s dollar-denominated index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down just 0.1 percent as slight gains in some regional currencies offset falls in share prices in local-currency terms.
European shares are expected to stabilise after a fall to one-month lows the previous day, with spreadbetters looking to gains of 0.1 percent in both Germany’s DAX and Britain’s FTSE.
A smaller-than-expected increase in May’s U.S. consumer spending, in data released on Thursday, added to concerns about the health of the U.S. economy following surprisingly weak first quarter GDP data.
The GDP data showed that the U.S. economy contracted at a 2.9 percent annualised pace in the first quarter, the worst performance in five years. Tohru Yamamoto, chief fixed income strategist at Daiwa Securities, called that “clearly a very weak figure.”
The weak data is starting to shake investors’ conviction that the U.S. economy is heading for a modest but robust recovery. U.S. growth this year is seen possibly falling short of 2 percent.
“People are assessing where they think their second- and third-quarter, fourth-quarter, GDP estimates are going to be,” said Wilmer Stith, co-manager in Baltimore of the Wilmington Broad Market Bond Fund.
“Even for those that are optimistic, it’s like getting that ‘F’ in college in that first test; it’s harder to raise that average up.”
On Thursday, the S&P 500 slipped 0.1 percent while the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index hit a one-month low before closing down 0.1 percent.
Losses in Western markets were led by financial shares, after New York’s attorney general filed a securities fraud lawsuit against Barclays (BARC.L), accusing the British bank of giving an unfair edge to high-frequency traders.
Hawkish comments from James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Fed, were also cited as having triggered selling in shares. Bullard said raising interest rates by the end of the first quarter in 2015 would be appropriate.
But his remarks were most likely used as an excuse for profit-taking in stocks, given that U.S. bonds, which should be vulnerable to rate hikes, made gains rather than losses, traders said.
Indeed, the 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield fell to a four-week low of 2.511 percent in Asia.
Ten-year German Bund yields also fell to a one-year low of 1.238 percent on Thursday in Europe, where growth is seen as even weaker than in the United States.
The U.S. dollar index held close to one-month lows hit on Wednesday. It stood at 80.102, a whisker above the low of 80.091.
A standout currency performer was the Canadian dollar, which rose to a six-month high in U.S. trade against the U.S. dollar after data showing inflation at a 27-month high raised doubts over how long the Bank of Canada will be able to stick with its neutral monetary policy stance.
The Canadian currency traded as high as C$1.0684 on the U.S. dollar on Thursday and last stood at C$1.0693.
The yen also firmed, hitting a five-week high of 101.315 yen against the dollar, s doubts on U.S. growth support low-risk assets.
The euro was little changed at $1.3628.
Additional reporting by Michael Connor in New York; Editing by Neil Fullick and Richard Borsuk