HONG KONG: Asian markets mostly fell Tuesday (Jan 7), with concerns about upcoming European elections and Donald Trump's unpredictable presidency fuelling uncertainty.
With investor nerves shredded by a succession of outbursts from the new US president, safe-haven assets rose. Gold pushed higher and while the yen eased from three-month highs against the dollar it continued to hold recent gains.
The weakness across markets is in contrast to the two-month rally that followed Trump's election win in November, when dealers bet that his big-spending, tax-cutting plans would fan US growth and inflation and force interest rates up.
Tokyo's Nikkei ended 0.4 per cent lower as the stronger yen hit exporters. The greenback was hovering around 112 yen, up from late Monday but well off Friday's levels around 112.60 yen.
The Japanese unit is up about 5 per cent against the dollar this year, clawing back most of the losses seen since Trump's election, after he accused Tokyo and Beijing of currency manipulation to get a trade advantage over the US.
Japan's former vice minister of finance for international affairs Eisuke Sakakibara said this week that Trump's desire to boost US jobs means he must boost exports.
"In order to do so, Trump is leaning to a weak dollar policy by, for example, criticising Japan for adopting weak yen policy," said Sakakibara, who has predicted the dollar would fall below 100 yen.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to discuss trade when he meets Trump in the US at the weekend.
Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul all ended around 0.1 per cent lower. Wellington, Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok were also down but Singapore added 0.3 per cent and Sydney gained 0.1 per cent.
Dealers were given a sombre lead from Wall Street where energy firms were hit by falling oil prices, while European traders are increasingly worried about upcoming polls in Germany and France.
Two of Europe's biggest economies hold general elections this year and there are fears they could succumb to the surge in populist parties that could threaten the break-up of the European Union.
Stephen Innes, senior trader at forex firm OANDA, said: "The market's tone has been one of risk-off, as political fallout in both Europe and the United States is weighing on investor resolve, imposing an unpalatable risk on investor sentiment."
European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi said Monday that "risks to the euro area outlook remain tilted to the downside and relate predominantly to global factors", and he stood ready to further ease monetary policy if necessary.
In early European trade London was flat, Frankfurt shed 0.1 per cent and Paris was 0.3 per cent lower.
KEY FIGURES AROUND 0800 GMT
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.4 per cent at 18,910.78 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 per cent at 23,331.57 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.1 at 3,153.09 (close)
London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,189.73
Euro/dollar: DOWN at US$1.0700 from US$1.0752
Pound/dollar: DOWN at US$1.2440 from US$1.2470
Dollar/yen: UP at 112.02 yen from 111.70 yen
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP five cents at US$53.06 per barrel
Oil - Brent North Sea: UP seven cents at US$55.79
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.1 per cent at 20,052.42 (close)