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Asia Opening: China Manufacturing worse than expected

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares turned tail on the first trading day of the new year as more disappointing economic data from China darkened the mood and upended U.S. stock futures.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan  skidded 1.6 per cent as a private sector survey showed China manufacturing activity contracted for the first time in 19 months.

The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for December fell to 49.7, from 50.2 in November, and followed a poor official survey on factory output.

“Even more eye-catching was that ‘new orders’ in both PMI fell from expansion in November to contraction in December,” said analysts at ING. “This confirms our view that the economy is weak and that stimulus needs to arrive quickly.”

The Shanghai blue chip index (CSI300) quickly shed 1.2 per cent and South Korea (KS11) fell 1.5 per cent. Japan’s Nikkei (N225) was closed for a holiday.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 (ESc1) were stripped of early gains to be down 0.8 per cent, while FTSE futures (FFIc1) dropped 0.6 per cent. Spreadbetters also pointed to opening losses for the other main European bourses.

The Australian dollar, often used as a proxy for China sentiment, lost as much as 0.7 per cent to its lowest since February 2016 at $ 0.70015.

The safe-haven yen extended its broad rally as the U.S. dollar dropped to 109.37, its lowest since June last year. The dollar was otherwise mixed, edging up a little on the euro to $1.1445 and steady on a basket of currencies at 96.189 (DXY).

The dollar has been dragged by a steep fall in Treasury yields in recent weeks as investors wagered the U.S. Federal Reserve would not raise rates again, even though it is still projecting at least two more hikes.

AN END TO HIKES?

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will have the chance to comment on the economic outlook when he participates in a joint discussion with former Fed chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke on Friday.

Also looming are a closely-watched survey on U.S. manufacturing due on Thursday, followed by the December payrolls report on Friday.

Fed fund futures <0#FF:> have all but priced out any hike for this year and now imply a quarter-point cut by mid-2020.

The Treasury market also assumes the Fed is done and dusted. Yields on two-year paper  have tumbled to 2.49 percent, just barely above the cash rate, from a peak of 2.977 per cent in November.

Yields on 10-year notes  have dived to their lowest since last February at 2.69 percent, making a bullish break of a major chart level at 2.717 percent.

The spread between two- and 10-year yields has in turn shrunk to the smallest since 2007, a flattening that has been a portent of recessions in the past.

“What is clear is that the global synchronized growth story that propelled risk assets higher has come to the end of its current run,” the Treasury team at OCBC Bank wrote in a note.

“Inexorably flattening yield curves and, now, partially inverted U.S. yield curve have poured cold water on further policy normalization going ahead.”

The pullback in the dollar and the chance of no more U.S. rate hikes has been a boon for gold. The precious metal fetched $1,283.71 an ounce to be close to a six-month peak.

Oil prices sagged anew after a punishing 2018. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI)futures slumped nearly 25 per cent last year, while Brent lost 19.5 per cent.

On Wednesday, U.S. crude futures (CLc1) eased 43 cents to $44.98 a barrel, while Brent (LCOc1) fell 58 cents to $53.22.

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