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US stock futures slide; Europe seen firmer

Singapore, August 12, 2011

US stock futures slid 1 percent on Friday, pulling Asian shares off early highs, as sentiment remained cautious on concerns over the European debt crisis, which will probably keep supporting safe havens like gold and Swiss franc.

Wall Street jumped 4 percent overnight in high volume, with relatively low valuations and short-term oversold conditions attracting buyers, though the see-saw moves this week appear to be continuing with US equity markets set for a weaker open.

However, European shares were seen extending the previous sessions gains, with investors seen focusing again on macroeconomic fundamentals and bargain-hunters looking at beaten-down stocks.

"Markets are still trying to build a bit of a bottom and it still needs to be proved that this is the bottom," said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at Sydney-based AMP Capital, which has more than $100 billion in assets under management.

"For the next three months we are probably going to remain volatile. Markets may not be as messy as the last two weeks but I suspect the debt problems in U.S. and Europe will continue and concerns over a U.S recession will linger for some time".

Volatility across financial markets has spiked over the past few weeks, with rumours flying about the health of European banks, questions mounting about the stability of money markets and growing fears that the U.S. economy may tip back into recesion or a prolonged period of tepid growth.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan was roughly unchanged on the day, trimming earlier gains as US stock futures sagged.

The index lost around 3.6 percent on the week, underperforming the world index and taking Asia ex-Japan year-to-date losses to more than 11 percent.

"The risk-averse sentiment has not gone away really. For today, the bears are resting," said Kumar Rachapudi, a fixed income strategist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

Japan's Nikkei share average reversed early gains to end 0.2 percent lower, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 1 percent and Australia advanced 0.8 percent.

Some fund managers in Asia with long-term horizons have been slowly shifting their portfolios by buying more cyclical stocks, which are more sensitive to changes in business cycles, and reducing exposure to so-called defensive sectors.

"As prices come down and correct, we add to our current positions. We're not changing the basic strategy that we have which is commodities and consumers," Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Franklin Templeton's emerging markets group, told Reuters Television.

"We're looking for good consumer stocks and stocks in the commodities area particularly oil that can benefit from what's going on."

Similar strategies may have more to do with valuations and positioning than a call on global economic prospects.

For example, in some Asian markets, stocks in a defensive sector such as consumer staples are running a bit expensive relative to growth prospects compared with a cyclical sector such as industrials.

A look at the ratio of price-to-earnings over estimated earnings growth next year indicates Indonesia's consumer staples are trading at 1.3 times versus 0.5 times among industrials, Thomson Reuters Starmine showed. In Korea, staples are trading at 1.0 time versus the 0.3 times of industrials.

That investors in US stocks focused more on value overnight despite the clear and present risks to economic growth is not so surprising considering the S&P 500 index is trading around 11.7 times forecast earnings in 12 months, well below the 10-year average of 16.2 times.

"For now, we believe that picking the EM equity markets with solid fundamentals remains a good strategy for global equity managers in this current environment," Win Thin, Global Head of Emerging Markets Strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, wrote in a note.

The safe-haven Swiss franc rebounded in Asia on Friday, after posting record one-day falls against the euro and dollar overnight after the Swiss National Bank threatened to step up its fight to curb the franc's strength.

The euro was down 0.4 percent to $1.4190, though global focus would likely be on how the single currency fares against the Swiss franc.

The euro surged a record 5 percent against the franc overnight, but was trading down 0.8 percent at 1.0761 francs in Asian trading .

"Market reaction was probably a reflection of how long participants are of the Swiss franc," said Richard Grace, chief currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank.

Oil snapped a two-day rising streak, falling 1.2 percent, after having gained 6.4 percent over the last two days.  - Reuters




Tags: stocks | US | Asia | futures |

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