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Asian stocks slide, bond yields depressed as recession worries weigh


A man walks past a screen displaying the Hang Seng Index at Central district, in Hong Kong, China March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Asian stocks and U.S. equity futures sank on Thursday while bonds and the safe-haven U.S. dollar and Japanese yen were bid as mounting evidence of a U.S. slowdown fuelled worries for a global recession.

Investors were inclined to take money off the table after recent strong gains, and with many global markets off on Good Friday, when potentially pivotal U.S. monthly payrolls data is due.

Asian trading had already been thinner since Wednesday, when Chinese markets began a holiday that runs through Monday.

Japan’s Nikkei (.N225) tumbled about 1%, helping to drag MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares (.MIAP00000PUS) down 0.8%. The Asia-wide index had surged more than 5% since mid-March to close at a 1 1/2-month high on Tuesday.

South Korea’s Kospi (.KS11) sank 0.6%, while Australia’s equity benchmark (.AXJO) sagged around 0.3%.

U.S. Nasdaq E-mini futures pointed to a 0.45% lower restart, after the tech stock benchmark slumped 1% overnight. E-mini futures for the broader S&P 500 indicated a 0.24% decline at the reopen, extending Wednesday’s 0.25% slide.

Data overnight showed U.S. private employers hired far fewer workers than expected in March, adding to signs of a loosening labour market from earlier in the week.

The country’s services sector also slowed more than expected, while earlier figures showed a stalling at factories as well.

“Cracks have started to appear in the U.S. economic data this week, and slowdown fears are re-emerging,” spurring investors to sell riskier assets and shift to safer assets, including Treasuries and the dollar, IG analyst Tony Sycamore wrote in a client note.

“It makes sense to square some risk ahead of the Easter long weekend,” he said. “All eyes are now on Friday’s non-farm payrolls release.”

As signs have built this week for a sharp U.S. slowdown, traders have been pricing for a more dovish Fed. Money markets now see the odds of a further quarter point hike at the May meeting versus a pause as a coin toss. And 71 basis points of easing are priced by year-end.

Treasury yields have fallen as a result. The 10-year note yielded around 3.30% in Tokyo, sticking close to the nearly seven-month low of 3.266% reached overnight.

That helped the yen, which is highly sensitive to U.S. yields, gain against fellow safe haven the greenback.

The dollar slipped 0.13% to 131.15 yen , but was higher against most other major currencies. The dollar index rose 0.12% to 101.99, continuing its bounce from a two-month low.

The risk-sensitive, commodity-linked Australian and New Zealand dollars each slid about 0.3% against their U.S. peer. The euro was off 0.16% at %1.0891.

Crude oil was under pressure, with West Texas Intermediate was down 57 cents at $80.04 a barrel and Brent off 61 cents at $84.38.

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