By Marc Jones
LONDON (Reuters) – Share markets fell for a third straight day on Tuesday as fears about a drawnout global trade war, protests in Hong Kong and a crash in Argentina’s peso currency kept investors huddled in bonds, gold, and the Japanese yen for safety.
If that wasn’t enough, Europe’s bourses and the euro were given an additional shove lower by an alarming German sentiment survey after some heavy falls in China, Hong Kong, Japan had also whacked down Asia overnight.
MSCI’s main 47-country world index <.MIWD00000PUS> has dropped nearly 4% this month already and with Wall Street futures pointing to a 0.2% start in the red for New York, those hoping for a rebound were left tallying up the worries.
Hong Kong’s airport, the world’s busiest cargo hub, had been forced to suspend check-ins again as the mood remained febrile after weeks of increasingly violent demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled territory.
Investors were also still assessing the damage caused by Monday’s crash in Argentina after its President Mauricio Macri became the latest pro-free market, pro-reform leader to be given a beating at the polls by a populist rival.
Battered local markets were struggling to decide which way to go. Government bond price and bank stocks were showing tentative signs of stabilisation, but nothing compared to what was lost in Monday’s mauling.
The peso dropped 15%, equities <.MERV> had crumbled 48% in dollar terms – the second-biggest one-day slump anywhere since 1950 – while a 100-year bond that investors had gobbled up recently tumbling 20% as fears of yet another default spiked.
“Yes, Argentina is a small economy. However, the last thing global markets want to see is another market-friendly government fall to populism and/or geopolitics,” said Rabobank strategist Michael Every.
He added the “wall of worry” also now includes: the trade war, Brexit, China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Kashmir, North Korea, South China Sea, Turkey, and Venezuela. “Did I miss anything with tired eyes?”
With so much uncertainty around, Europe’s traditional safety play, the 10-year German government bond, saw yields hit a new record low of -0.6%.
The dismal data had driven that too showing that economic sentiment among German investors had slumped far more than expected last month and to the lowest level since the euro debt crisis was ratcheting up in late 2011.
Equivalent U.S. Treasury yields were straining for their lowest in almost three years too, gold climbed to a fresh six-year high and the yen stayed within a whisker of a seven-month peak versus the dollar.
ING analysts said the yen was benefiting “from the best of both worlds”, pointing to general risk aversion and a rush to price in more interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. They think the yen, at 105.10 <JPY=> in Europe, will rally to 102 or 103 per dollar later this year.
The Swiss franc, also viewed as a safe haven, rose 0.1% to a two-year high against the euro of 1.0862 francs <EURCHF=EBS> though that was largely down to another dip from the euro as it backpedalled to $1.1204 <EUR=EBS> against the dollar.
GRAPHIC: Yen vs U.S. dollar – https://tmsnrt.rs/2MYxgb6
While there was a danger the moves were be being exaggerated by low northern hemisphere summer trading volumes, there was no shortage of gloomy news for investors looking to catch their breath from several months of market ructions.
The weeks-long protests in Hong Kong began in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China but have quickly morphed into the biggest challenge to China’s authority over the city since it took Hong Kong back from Britain in 1997.
A state of “panic and chaos” now exists, the city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, defying fresh calls to quit.
As she spoke, the benchmark Hang Seng index <.HSI> hit a seven-month low. By the close, it had dropped 2.1%, dragging down markets across Asia and taking its losses since the protests began in June past 6%.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares <.MIAP00000PUS> skidded 1.2% as Chinese stocks <.CSI300> and the Nikkei in Tokyo both fell around 1% too though at least the yuan remained quiet.
The dive for safety pushed gold <XAU=> up another 0.5% to $1.523 per ounce and its latest six-year high.
Oil prices meanwhile held their ground as expectations that major producers will continue to reduce supplies balanced out worries about sluggish economic growth.
Brent crude inched up to $58.74 while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures <CLc1> were flat at $54.81 a barrel.
It comes too with Saudi Arabia repushing plans to float its national oil company Saudi Aramco in what could be the world’s largest initial public offering (IPO).
“With Saudi Aramco reportedly eyeing an IPO once again, there is some support to the idea that Saudi Arabia has a heightened interest in strong crude prices and will cut its own output accordingly,” Vienna-based consultancy JBC Energy said.
(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Hugh Lawson)