Japan led a fall in Asian stocks on Thursday after the yen spiked to a five-month high against the dollar, with investors seeking to trim riskier bets amid concerns about the health of the global economy.
As the confidence in recovery shown in the second quarter further evaporated, money found its way into government bond markets.
U.S. Treasury prices shot up after a $19 billion auction of 10-year debt met surprisingly strong demand, and two-year Japanese government bond yields fell to a 3- year low.
As optimism over the outlook for the global economy had gone too far, such a view has been fading. It will take a while before we see the economy recover, said Akitsugu Bandou, a senior economist at Okasan Securities.
However, European markets were seen breaking a five-day losing streak, helped by a late rally on Wall Street and hopes the second-quarter earnings season might not be as bad as feared. <.EU>
The dollar and the euro both fell more than 2 percent against the yen on Wednesday, posting their sharpest one-day drops since March.
Traders said the rise in the yen, which benefits from risk aversion trades, was exacerbated by automatic dollar sell orders that kicked in when it fell through 94 yen.
The rapid rise also prompted some concerns about market intervention by Japanese authorities but with the yen still well off its January peak and the stock market holding off its lows, few analysts expect any immediate action.
The yen lost some ground on Thursday, with the dollar up about 0.6 percent at 93.33 yen and the euro trading around 129.70 yen.
The dollar remains vulnerable as U.S. Treasury yields slid yesterday, narrowing the dollar's yield advantage over the yen, said Minoru Shioiri, senior manager of forex trading at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities.
But the greenback is unlikely to plunge against the yen during Tokyo trade as those who needed to cut long dollar positions have already dumped enough dollars.
Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> ended 1.4 percent weaker, down for a seventh straight day and its lowest close in seven weeks.
The index has fallen almost 9 percent from its peak in mid-June as the stronger yen added to concerns about weak demand from major export markets.
It is mostly about the yen today. The stock market is on the backfoot as the currency not only sliced below the 94 yen threshold but went on to advance below 92 yen. This is not good news for exporters, said Yumi Nishimura, a deputy general manager at Daiwa Securities SMBC.
MSCI's measure of stocks elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific edged down a modest 0.2 percent but has still risen 27 percent so far this year.
Asian stocks have comfortably outperformed most of their U.S. and European peers this year on expectations the region will recover more quickly.
The Dow and the Nasdaq eked out small gains on Wednesday, with better-than-expected results from aluminum giant Alcoa Inc
Alcoa posted a smaller-than-expected second-quarter loss, kicking off the U.S. earnings season with a somewhat positive tone and sending its shares up about 5 percent after hours.
Indonesia's rupiah currency rose but the country's stock market <.JKSE>, one of Asia's top performing indexes this year, was little moved after provisional presidential poll results showed a resounding victory for incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has promised more economic reform and anti-corruption measures.
U.S. crude oil futures rose 1 percent toward $61 a barrel, recovering from a seven-week low hit on Wednesday after oil reserves data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed a larger-than-expected rise in distillates.
It's no more than a mild correction from the earlier decline that reflected the EIA report, said David Moore, commodity analyst with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
There are still concerns about the outlook for demand, particularly in the U.S. But much of the possible decline in oil prices has already happened. If we did dip below $60, you would probably see some people who might see it as a buying opportunity.
Gold, which is variously viewed as either a safe-haven inflation hedge or a riskier commodity, edged up after hitting a two-month low the previous session.
(Editing by Kim Coghill)