Asian share markets cautious, pound stumbles on Brexit drama

Stanley White, Reuters

Posted at Oct 21 2019 10:17 AM | Updated as of Oct 21 2019 10:32 AM

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TOKYO -- Asian stocks were steady in a cautious start to the week on Monday, while the British pound fell following a delay to a crucial vote on Britain's divorce from the European Union.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan were flat, with Australian shares off down 0.3 percent. Japan's Nikkei rose 0.13 percent.

The Brexit maelstrom, worries over slowing global growth and international trade frictions have kept investors on edge over recent months. Oil futures fell as lingering economic growth concerns and excess supplies of crude prompted speculators to trim their long positions.

The pound slipped from a five-month high against the dollar and the euro after the British parliament forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek a delay to an Oct. 31 deadline for Britain's departure from the bloc.

The vote for an extension dealt a blow to optimism that a deal agreed last week would ensure Brexit happens with little economic disruption.

While the British government insisted Brexit will take place on Oct. 31, uncertainty over whether the EU will agree a delay and how British lawmakers will respond could weigh on sentiment over the week.

"There is some uncertainty about Brexit, but it may not rattle investors too much because this is not an outright rejection of the deal," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.

"Trading volumes are around 40 percent of what they would normally be, which shows there's not a lot of conviction in the market."

The pound fell 0.7 percent to $1.2908 and was off about 0.4 percent to 86.50 per euro.

US stock futures nudged 0.06 percent higher in Asia as investors brace for high-profile earnings this week from Microsoft Corp, Amazon.com and others.

The S&P 500 fell 0.4 percent on Friday partly due to worries about fallout from the US-China trade war.

A 15-month long trade war between the United States and China has shown few signs of a durable resolution being reached despite several rounds of talks.

Financial markets have been whipsawed over this period as a steady increase in tit-for-tat tariffs have slowed global trade and raised the risk of recession for some countries.

Underscoring the damage, Japan's exports fell in September for the 10th straight month, while South Korea's exports for the first 20 days of October fell 19.5 percent year-on-year, data on Monday showed.

Elsewhere in the currency markets, the dollar edged 0.1 percent higher to $1.1158 per euro but held steady at 108.45 yen as investors pondered the shifting scenarios for Brexit.

US crude fell 0.45 percent to $53.54 per barrel.

Money managers cut their net long US crude futures and options positions in the week to Oct. 15, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday.

Long bets on US crude have dropped sharply in the last two weeks after a spate of weak economic figures worldwide fanned concerns about global energy demand.

Treasury prices rose in Asia as investors sought safe havens. The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes fell to 1.7414 percent, while the two-year yield fell to 1.5675 percent.

Gold, another safe-haven asset, edged 0.11 percent higher to $1,491.28 per ounce.