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Asian shares slide as bond yields spiral lower

[SYDNEY] Asian share markets were painted red on Thursday as recession concerns sent bond yields spiralling lower across the globe, overwhelming central bank efforts to calm frayed nerves.

Sterling was also hit by another bout of Brexit blues after a round of votes in the UK parliament failed to produce any new plan to manage its divorce from the European Union.

A Reuters report that the US and China had made progress in all areas in trade talks had little obvious impact, since sticking points still remained and there was no definite timetable for a deal.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.3 per cent, with South Korea down 0.7 per cent and Shanghai blue chips slipping 0.3 per cent.

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Japan's Nikkei fell 1.7 per cent. US stocks could not escape the malaise with E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 off 0.5 per cent.

Worries that the inversion of the US Treasury curve signalled a future recession only deepened as 10-year yields fell to a fresh 15-month low at 2.34 per cent.

"We think that the ongoing flattening, or outright inversion, of the curve is a bad sign for equities, as it usually has been in the past," said Oliver Jones, markets economist at Capital Economics.

"Arguments that the yield curve is no longer a reliable indicator seem to resurface every time it inverts, only to be subsequently proved wrong."

The latest lunge lower was led by German bunds where 10-year yields dived deeper into negative territory after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said a hike in interest rates could be further delayed.

Plans to mitigate the side-effects of negative interest rates could also be considered, suggesting the central bank was preparing for an extended period below zero.

That shift came hot on the heels of a dovish surprise on Wednesday from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which abandoned its neutral bias to say the next rate move would likely be down.

Yields in both New Zealand and neighbour Australia, quickly sank to record lows in response.

The RBNZ explicitly cited all the easing moves by other central banks as a reason for its turnaround since they had put unwanted upward pressure on the local dollar.

EASING GOES GLOBAL

That is one reason markets are wagering the Reserve Bank of Australia will also be forced to cut rates, simply to stop its currency from appreciating. Policy easing then becomes a self-fulfilling cycle across the world.

"The continued dovish shift by G7 central banks, ongoing support by the Chinese authorities, and the move by the RBNZ will keep pressure on the RBA to also move in the same direction, however reluctantly," said Su Lin Ong, head of Australian and New Zealand strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

"It is, essentially, a global policy cycle."

The RBNZ's action had the desired effect on its currency, which was pinned at US$0.6786 after diving 1.6 per cent overnight. The Aussie was on the defensive at US$0.7078.

Mr Draghi's comments likewise tugged the euro back to US$1.1245 , and left the US dollar firmer against a basket of its competitors at 96.909.

Only the yen held its own thanks to its safe-haven status and firmed to 110.20 per US dollar.

Sterling had its own troubles as an offer by British Prime Minister Theresa May to quit to get her European Union deal through parliament failed, leaving uncertainty hanging over the Brexit process.

That left the pound down at US$1.3170, having been as high as US$1.3269 at one point on Wednesday.

In commodity markets, palladium was the focus of attention after sliding 7 per cent on Wednesday as its meteoric rally finally ran into profit-taking. It was down 0.4 per cent on Thursday.

Gold was relatively sedate at US$1,308.37 per ounce.

Oil prices nursed modest losses after data showed US crude inventories grew more than expected last week as a Texas chemical spill hampered exports.

US crude was last down 21 cents at US$59.14 a barrel, while Brent crude futures lost 21 cents to US$67.62.

REUTERS