TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. share futures and the dollar slipped in early Asian trade on Wednesday after reports that President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to end a probe into his former security adviser.
The reports raised questions about whether charges of obstruction of justice could be laid against Trump, weakening confidence in the U.S. president’s ability to push through an aggressive stimulus programme that investors had been banking on since his election last November.
U.S. economic data published on Tuesday was mixed after soft retail sales and inflation data on Friday, also undermining investors’ optimism on the U.S. economy.
S&P 500 mini futures ESc1, the world’s most liquid stock futures, dropped 0.5 percent in early Asian trade.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS dipped 0.1 percent while Japan's Nikkei .N225 fell 0.6 percent.
“Worries about European politics and North Korea have receded. The earnings are mostly over. But now we have worries about the Trump Administration. Given that there are some stock indexes that have risen more than 10 percent so far this year, we may be entering a consolidation phase,” said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, chief strategist at Mizuho Securities.
Trump asked Comey to end the agency’s investigation into ties between former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia, according to a source who has seen a memo written by Comey.
The news, first reported by New York Times, came after Trump had fired Comey and then discussed sensitive national security information about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The White House quickly denied the New York Times report, saying in a statement it was “not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
The tumult at the White House prompted currency traders to ditch the dollar against a broad range of currencies, most notably against the yen, which often becomes a safe-haven when there are problems in Europe and the United States.
The dollar dropped 0.5 percent in early Asian trade to 112.59 yen JPY=, slipping further from its highs near 114.40 yen touched last week.
The dollar’s index against a basket of six major currencies .DXY =USD dropped to 98.063, essentially giving up all of its gains made after Trump’s election victory.
The euro EUR= held firm at $1.1086, having hit a six-month high of $1.10975 on Tuesday, as it also drew help from solid economic data in the euro zone.
The euro zone GDP grew 0.5 percent in January-March, in line with expectations, and underscoring a recovery in the currency bloc.
On the other hand, U.S. economic data published on Tuesday was mixed, raising more doubts about rosy views on the U.S. economy.
U.S. manufacturing production recorded its biggest increase in more than three years in April but housing starts posted a surprise fall to five-month lows.
The data came after Friday’s softer than expected retail sales and inflation.
“Until Friday, markets had been focusing only on the bright side of the U.S. economy. But that seems to have changed,” said Daisuke Uno, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.
The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield US10YT=RR dipped to 2.293 percent, the lowest level in two weeks.
Oil prices dropped following data that showed an unexpected rise in U.S. inventory. U.S. crude futures traded at $48.28 per barrel CLc1, down 0.8 percent from late U.S. levels.
Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore