Sub-prime domino hits Asia again

Painful pattern takes shape as US ripples exact their toll

(SINGAPORE) For the fourth time in two weeks, stock markets in Asia plunged following steep losses in the United States and Europe the previous trading day.

As the fallout from rising defaults in US sub-prime mortgages continues to spread, the Straits Times Index fell 53.99 points or 1.6 per cent to end at 3,359.18.

Earlier in the day, the index was down as much as 3.8 per cent before clawing back some ground.

A distinct pattern – that seems set to continue for some time – has been unfolding of late. Each new piece of bad news related to the US sub-prime mortgage market has been followed by a plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This has invariably been mirrored the following trading day in Asia.

Fears of a global credit crunch hung over the US for the second day running as, shortly after opening yesterday, the Dow Jones index was down 124.8 points at 13,145.9.

Europe reflected the strain, too, as in London the FTSE 100 fell 3.1 per cent in morning trade, the Paris index was down 3 per cent and German shares slumped 1.6 per cent as fear of more bad news to come in credit markets gripped investors.

On Thursday, the trigger had been provided by French banking group BNP Paribas, which stopped withdrawals from three of its funds which own US sub-prime mortgages citing a ‘complete evaporation’ of liquidity.

Central banks across the globe have since been pumping in doses of liquidity to ease the crunch.

Here, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said it is monitoring developments in the markets and is ready to inject additional liquidity ‘if the situation so warrants’.

Meanwhile, Fullerton Fund Management, a unit of Temasek Holdings, told Bloomberg that it has no direct exposure to US sub-prime loans and its investments in collateralised debt obligations or CDOs amount to less than one per cent of its total assets under management.

Over the past week, banks and asset managers here have sought to reassure analysts and investors by releasing details of their exposure to US sub-prime property loans through their investments in CDOs.

The sub-prime woes in the US have already caused several hedge funds to suspend withdrawals by investors, usually seen as a sign that the value of the assets they hold may not be enough to repay investors in full.

‘The markets will remain volatile for a few more weeks. More hedge funds are going to have some terrible announcements to make,’ said economist David Cohen at Action Economics. But he added: ‘I wouldn’t get too upset by the fact that the central banks were injecting liquidity today – they were just accommodating the public want to hold cash rather than stocks.

‘That would have caused some cash-flow problems in the banking system, so they added some reserves. It’s not as if they’re bailing out the economy.’

In Asia-Pacific, stocks were again battered as all major markets in the region suffered losses.

South Korea saw the worst fall in percentage terms with a 4.2 per cent plunge, followed by Australia, where shares fell 3.6 per cent.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 lost 2.4 per cent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 2.9 per cent. China’s CSI 300 index slid 1.1 per cent.

In South-east Asia, the Kuala Lumpur Composite Index ended 2 per cent lower, while key indices in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines also lost 0.9-3.1 per cent.


Source: Business Times 11 Aug 07

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