Asian shares edged higher on Tuesday, rebounding from Monday's fall, but the dollar slid to a record low against the Swiss franc after a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama gave no sign a deadlock in Washington over raising the debt limit was easing.
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 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 $1,614.14 an ounce.
The unfolding U.S. debt ceiling drama should add to the headwinds for market risk sentiment, with a potential downgrade of the world's ultimate risk-free asset - the U.S. Treasuries - fuelling more flight to quality into gold and Swiss franc, said currency analysts at Citigroup in a note to clients.
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.
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 0.8 percent and is up about 1 percent on the month and year, withstanding the occasional bouts of volatility from the U.S. deficit debate and euro zone debt crisis.
Gains were fairly broad, if on light trade. By sector, telecom, energy, financial and resource shares were driving the rise.
JAPAN WEATHERS STORM
Japan has also weathered the storm as its big automakers and manufacturers have recovered more quickly than expected from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> clung to positive territory, 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 0.6 percent to $1.4470, while the dollar hit an all-time low of 0.8006 Swiss francs. The dollar hovered near 78.00 yen after briefly falling below that level.
The yen pushed back toward a record high hit against the dollar in March, stirring some speculation Japanese authorities may soon intervene to stem further gains. The dollar briefly spiked against the yen, but traders said no intervention had been spotted.
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 off peaks of 24.65 and 31.28 struck earlier this year.
Implied volatility on Treasury futures was also higher this month but historically subdued. For chart see: http:/r.reuters.com/paz72s
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 4/32 in price to yield 3.017 percent, up a basis point. Thirty-year bonds fell 5/32 to yield 4.328 percent, also up a basis point.