Asian shares fall as focus shifts to U.S. budget talks


Asian shares ended a seven-day winning streak on Wednesday and commodities eased as investors fretted that a lack of progress in talks on U.S. budget woes risked putting the world's largest economy into recession, dragging down global growth with it.

European shares will likely track Asian peers lower. Financial spreadbetters predicted London's FTSE 100 , Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX will open down as much as 0.5 percent. A 0.1 percent drop in U.S. stock futures also hinted at a soft Wall Street open.

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MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> fell 0.5 percent, retreating from Tuesday's nearly three-week highs, with materials and energy sectors <.MIAPJMT00PUS> <.MIAPJEN00PUS> leading the declines.

"The global economy, China, Europe, needs the U.S. economy to grow, and that is why the pressure to get this deal done is greater than before," said Carl Larry, a derivatives broker at the Houston-based Atlas Commodities. "The global economy can't afford for America to slip back into a recession."

Shares in resource-reliant Australian eased 0.2 percent, off Tuesday's two-week highs as top miners fell on weaker gold prices.

Australia's Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics said committed investment in major resources and energy projects, the main driver of Australian growth, still rose to A$268.4 billion ($280.5 billion) at October 31 from A$260.8 billion at end-April, but the rise partly reflected higher project costs and masked a fall in the number of projects. A fall in commodity prices due to a drop-off in Chinese demand also weighed on shares.

"Markets don't really provide any sort of compelling investment value here at present because the grey cloud of uncertainty still overhangs the economic climate, in particular across Europe and the U.S., but also filtering into this part of the world as well," Jamie Spiteri, senior dealer at Shaw Stockbroking, said of Australian shares.

U.S. stocks slid overnight after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed disappointment over little progress in dealing with the approaching "fiscal cliff" of deep cuts in government spending and big tax hikes early next year.

The Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.9 percent to its lowest in nearly four years as growth-sensitive sectors sank, extending losses after closing on Tuesday below 2,000 points for the first time since January 2009.

The weak Chinese stock market, along with doubts over the U.S. ability to resolve its fiscal crisis, strengthened demand for sovereign debt, helping to push the 10-year Japanese government bond futures price to a 9-1/2-year high of 144.79, while U.S. Treasuries clung to gains made on Tuesday.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.N225> slumped 1 percent, after closing on Tuesday at a seven-month high.

The Nikkei had risen 8.8 percent over the past two weeks since the government announced a December 16 election. Japan's main opposition party is forecast to win power, and investors expect it will force the Bank of Japan into aggressive easing.


Tuesday's agreement by international lenders to cut Greece's debt offered relief that it has averted an imminent bankruptcy, but uncertainty remained over the lack of details on how Athens will carry out budget reforms to meet its new debt targets as analysts cited the deal as falling short of addressing medium-term financing and debt sustainability issues.

"The uncertainty brought by this approach makes European assets, including the EUR, vulnerable to global growth risks. For that reason, we think the European muddle through amplifies the market's response to the fiscal cliff discussion in the US," Barclays Capital analysts said in a note.

The euro fell 0.2 percent to $1.2924, after peaking at $1.3010 on the Greece news on Tuesday, its highest level since October 31.

Worries over the fiscal crisis overshadowed positive U.S. economic data that showed improvement in durable orders, the real estate sector and consumer confidence, which hit a 4-1/2-year high in November.

The dollar dropped 0.3 percent against the yen to 81.85. U.S. crude futures were steady around $87.16 a barrel while Brent edged up 0.2 percent to $110.13. London copper dropped 0.4 percent to $7,776 a metric ton (1.1023 tons).

Spot gold inched down 0.1 percent to $1,739.40 an ounce after slipping on Tuesday for a second session.

Southeast Asia kept some hopes that the damage to their economies may be contained from global growth deterioration triggered by the prolonged euro zone debt crisis.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy, sees annual economic growth in the fourth quarter at 5.9-6.3 percent, while the Philippine economy picked up more than expected in the third quarter, with the government expecting the economy to surpass its 2012 full-year growth target of 5-6 percent.

Investors were sidelined in Asian credit markets, keeping the spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index little changed from Tuesday's levels.

(Additional reporting by Miranda Maxwell in Melbourne and Luke Pachymuthu in Singapore; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)