Asian markets roiled by recession fears

Hong Kong rebounds with bargain hunting

By Laura He, CNN Business
Copyright 2019 CNN

China's Star Market, a new Nasdaq-style stock market board on the Shanghai stock exchange got off to a spectacular start.

SHANGHAI - Asian stocks were roiled by recession fears Thursday, though markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai recovered their losses by the end of the day.

Japan's Nikkei fell 1.2%, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 sank 2.9%. Losses deepened even more after a top Australian central banker warned that the US-China trade war is damaging global growth and risks a "self-fulfilling downturn."

The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong and China's Shanghai Composite Index dropped at market open, but both recovered to end higher: They advanced 0.8% and 0.3%, respectively.

In Hong Kong, property developers have been hit hard by the city's mass protests. But that was the sector that gained the most on the city's benchmark index Thursday. New World Development surged 7.8%, while MTR, the city's subway system and a major real estate developer, climbed 4.4%.

"Hong Kong stocks had been oversold and investors are buying the dip," said Ben Kwong, executive director of KGI Asia. "But that doesn't mean investors' cautious sentiment has turned around. It's just bargain hunting."

Chinese telecom companies that are listed on the Hang Seng rose, too. One of those, China Unicom, soared roughly 11% after the company said it's speeding up its 5G plans.

Major Chinese banks that trade in Hong Kong also made gains Thursday after the People's Bank of China injected about $57 billion into the financial system.

South Korea's market was closed on Thursday for a public holiday.

Thursday's sell-off came after US markets plummeted in the worst day for stocks there of 2019. That happened because the bond market, for the first time in over a decade, flashed a warning signal that has an eerily accurate track record for predicting recessions.

The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell below 1.6% Wednesday, dropping just below the yield of the 2-year Treasury bond. It marked the first time since 2007 that 10-year bond yields fell below 2-year yields. The inversion of that curve has preceded every recession in modern history.

On Thursday, the US 30-year Treasury yield fell to a new record low, according to Refinitiv.

Investors were spooked Wednesday because of some bad news out of Germany and China. Germany's economy shrank in the second quarter. One analyst called Wednesday's report "the end of a golden decade for the German economy."

China on Wednesday posted its worst growth for industrial production in 17 years. The metric is important because it measures the output of key businesses in China's manufacturing, mining and utilities sectors.

"Bond markets have been flagging this move for some time, but the shift was crystallised by yesterdays run of doom and gloom European and Chinese economic data," wrote Stephen Innes, managing partner for Valour Markets Pte in Singapore, in a research note.

Australia's major index was the biggest loser early Thursday. Declines accelerated as Guy Debelle, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, warned of the ramifications of the US-China trade war.

"The uncertainty as to how the dispute will play out on both the trade and technology fronts means businesses are waiting to see how the uncertainty resolves rather than invest," he said, according to the text of his keynote speech to be delivered at a conference in Sydney on Thursday. "The longer businesses hold off, the weaker demand will be, which will further confirm the decision to wait. That runs the risk of a self-fulfilling downturn."

CNN Business' Paul R. La Monica contributed to this report.

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