Traders work in front of the German share price index, DAX board, at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany. -Reuters
World stocks fell for a third day on Thursday and investors moved again into the Swiss franc, yen and gold as North Korea ratcheted up tensions with the United States with a threat to land a missile just short of the US territory of Guam.
Markets had seen a tentative recovery in risk appetite in US and early Asian trading, but as the war of words resumed Asian stocks dropped back and London .FTSE, Frankfurt and Paris all lost 0.5-1.2 percent.
Futures markets were also pointing to a lower start for Wall Street, where missile makers have been the only significant gainers in recent days, and investors were seeking out parts of the markets which provide the best protection from stress.
Currency traders consolidated positions in the Japanese yen and Swiss franc, and pushed up the dollar index by unwinding some of the recent big bets on the euro. Although Japan could be in the front line of any clash with North Korea, the yen is benefiting because Japan is the world's biggest creditor nation and Japanese investors tend to repatriate funds in times of stress, attracting other flows.
The euro was down 0.4 percent at just over $1.17 and nearing a two-week low, while the New Zealand dollar NZD=D4 tumbled a full 1 percent as its central bank head bluntly said he wanted it lower. "We saw a tentative recovery in risk appetite yesterday from the sell off inspired by North Korea but I think justifiably that move is fading a little bit today," said Saxo Bank's head of FX strategy John Hardy.
Overnight North Korea dismissed as a "load of nonsense" warnings by U.S. President Donald Trump that it would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States. It outlined detailed plans for a missile strike near Guam. Guam, which is more than 3,000 km (2,000 miles) to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. Navy base that includes a submarine squadron and a Coast Guard group, and an air base.
"Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him," a report by the North's state-run KCNA news agency said of Trump. With the rhetoric rumbling on, Europe's top-rated German bond yield held near six-week lows. US and British equivalents were also trading a touch above Wednesday's six-week lows.
Analysts said yields, which move inversely to prices, could fall further if the geopolitical tensions continue to rise -- even if central bankers in the United States continue to talk of raising interest rates or scaling back stimulus programs.
"We would currently be careful with a whiff of risk aversion in the air and, by extension, also stay away from shorts in the rates market," RBC's global macro strategist Peter Schaffrik said. The market's main safe-haven, gold, hit a two-month high of $1,278 an ounce amid the nervousness.
It was not only the threat of conflict with nuclear-ambitious North Korea. A US Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in a challenge to Beijing's territorial claims, officials told Reuters.
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