Asia shares jump, dollar slides on U.S. debt woes

By @ibtimes on

Asian shares rebounded on Tuesday as upbeat earnings lured buyers, but the dollar slid to a record low against the Swiss franc after a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama gave no sign that a deadlock in Washington over raising the debt limit was easing.

European and U.S. stocks were primed for gains, with futures on the Dow Jones Eurostoxxe 50 flat in early trade and S&P e-mini futures rising 0.2 percent.

Short-term speculators took aim at the dollar after Obama delivered a prime-time address to Americans, warning that a default on U.S. bond obligations would be a reckless and irresponsible outcome. But he gave no indication a compromise was imminent.

So far investors have shown few signs of panic even as Republicans and Democrats have failed to bridge their differences with just a week to go to the August 2 deadline that the U.S. Treasury has set for when it may fail to pay out on Treasuries.

The market reaction to a sudden breakdown in talks over the weekend was limited given the threat of a technical default and a potential cut in the United States' top-notch AAA credit rating.

But some market players were taking no chances, shifting funds into safe-haven gold and the Swiss franc, driving both to record highs in U.S. dollar terms. Gold was steady in early trade at $1,614.60 an ounce.

Portfolio managers and traders have said they believe an agreement will be reached in Washington at the last minute, and that even a technical default or rating downgrade may only cause short-term market volatility rather than a full-fledged crisis.

There's obviously political points to be made, who is going to blink first, but in the final analysis we're confident that there will be a compromise and that they will raise the debt ceiling, said Malcom Wood, head of Asia Pacific strategy at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Hong Kong.

Asian bonds, currencies and even shares have been one of the beneficiaries from all the debt trouble in Europe and the political gridlock in the United States, with investors viewing the region's stronger growth and fundamentals as a relative safe-haven.

The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was up 1 percent and has squeezed out a 1.6 percent gain on the month and year, withstanding the occasional bouts of volatility from the U.S. deficit debate and euro zone debt crisis.

Southeast Asian markets have fared the best. Indonesia's Jakarta Composite <.JKSE> extended its winning streak, vaulting to an all-time high and taking this year's rise to 11.3 percent. Currencies have also been on a tear, with the Singapore dollar hitting a record high.

Gains were fairly broad but on very light trade as summer holidays took a toll on trading activity. By sector, energy, financial, resource and technology shares were the main drivers.

The improved appetite for risk spread to commodities. U.S. crude oil prices were up 40 cents a barrel at $99.60.

JAPAN RECOVERS

Japanese shares also rose as its big automakers and manufacturers have recovered more quickly than expected from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> climbed 0.6 percent, thanks in part to solid earnings from blue-chip companies such as Canon <7751.T> despite the yen's persistent strength.

In currencies, the dollar erased gains scored against the euro the previous day on widening Spanish and Italian bond yield spreads and hit a six-week low against a basket of currencies.

The euro rose 0.7 percent to $1.4485, bursting through chart resistance. The dollar hit an all-time low of 0.8005 Swiss francs. The dollar hovered near 78.00 yen after briefly falling below that level.

High-yielding currencies were among the biggest winners. The New Zealand dollar jumped 0.7 percent and hit a high of $0.8708 -- the highest since being allowed to trade freely in the early 1980s.

Option markets -- where investors typically hedge themselves against potential risks -- were also showing no signs of panic across the dollar, S&P futures and Treasury futures.

While the closely watched VIX index <.VIX> of S&P implied volatility ticked up on Monday to 19.35, it remains well off peaks earlier this year.

Implied volatility on Treasury futures was also higher this month but historically subdued. For a chart see: http://r.reuters.com/paz72s

Analysts said that macro hedge funds and others were reluctant to trade, having struggled with choppy markets all years and cut back on positions heading into the European summit on Greece last week.

It has been a tough year for macro funds, and many do not want to trade Washington headlines, said Alan Ruskin, macro strategist at Deustche Bank in New York.

U.S. Treasuries slipped for a second day, with long-term Treasuries under the most pressure from the worries about a rating downgrade.

Ten-year notes were down 6/32 in price to yield 3.017 percent, up one basis point. Thirty-year bonds fell 5/32 to yield 4.328 percent, also up a basis point.

(Editing by Kim Coghill)

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