Asian traders cautious after sell-off as N. Korea tensions linger

HONG KONG

Asian markets struggled on Tuesday while the safe-haven yen and gold held gains as traders fret over North Korea’s nuclear test at the weekend, which prompted warnings of US military action.

The US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an emergency Security Council meeting that Pyongyang was “begging for war” and called for the “strongest possible measures” against Kim Jong-Un’s regime.

Also, US President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-In agreed to remove limits on the payload of the South’s missiles.

The test, which North Korea says was of a hydrogen bomb, came less than a week after it fired a rocket over Japan, while speculation mounts that it is preparing to launch another.

HEAVY SELLING

Sunday’s provocative test sparked heavy selling in Asian stocks Monday and markets were unable to stage any meaningful recovery on Tuesday.

Seoul was barely moved, having shed more than one percent the day before, while Tokyo dropped 0.5 percent by the break as exporters were weighed by the stronger yen.

Hong Kong was also flat and Shanghai, which managed to eke out gains Monday, eased 0.2 percent.

Wellington and Singapore were slightly higher.

“Investors in Asia have limited leads to follow,” Citigroup analysts led by Johanna Chua wrote in a client note, according to Bloomberg News.

BELLIGERENCE

They added that the North usually ramps up the belligerence around key anniversaries, the next of which is expected on September 9.

“Tension linger and it’s difficult for risk aversion sentiment to disappear,” Naoto Ono, a currency analyst at Ueda Harlow in Tokyo, said in a note.

Analysts said traders will be keeping an eye on Wall Street’s reaction to the latest events, having been closed Monday for Labour Day.

On currency markets the yen maintained its gains against the dollar as investors sought out safety, while gold held around one-year highs.

However, while tensions are high, Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, said: “For now, traders and investors are taking the approach that there will be no escalation beyond words.

“Markets will react violently if a military conflict erupts on the Korean peninsula. But overnight it’s clear traders are betting that things will de-escalate.”

KEY FIGURES AROUND 0230 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 19,417.31 (break)

Seoul – Kospi: FLAT at 2,329.95

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: FLAT at 27,751.21

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,374.35

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1900 from $1.1915 on Monday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2923 from $1.2955

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.53 yen from 109.55 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 11 cents at $47.40 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN 19 cents at $52.15

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4 percent at 7,411.47

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