Tokyo: Asian stock markets traded lower on Friday over deepening uncertainty over prospects for the negotiations to avert automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to start in January.
If a compromise is not in place by Jan. 1, the Bush-era tax cuts will expire and spending cuts will kick in automatically — a one-two punch to the economy that many experts fear will push the U.S. economy back into recession just as it begins to recover from the last one.
Risk assets were sold off, from shares, oil to currencies such as the Australian dollar and the euro, while the yen rirmed slightly, though it was pinned near multi-month lows versus the dollar and the euro.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell nearly 0.3 percent to 10,014.17. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.8 percent to 22,470.67. South Korea's Kospi shed 1.1 percent at 1,977.08. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 percent to 4,612.10. Benchmarks in Singapore and Taiwan also fell.
US S&P 500 stock futures plunged 1.5 percent on worries over the US "fiscal cliff".
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.4 percent, after having traded up 0.2 percent at the open.
The US House of Representatives will adjourn until after Christmas, Republican Representative Peter Roskam said on Thursday, after House Speaker John Boehner's proposed tax bill designed to avert the fiscal cliff failed to pass. The proposal was aimed at extracting concessions from the White House, which had threatened to veto it, and advance talks closer to a deal.
The Republican-led US House of Representatives, which abruptly recessed on late Thursday, may return as soon as December 27 with a yet-to-be-decided new plan, said a senior party aide.
US 10-year Treasuries rose in Asia on Friday, with yields moving away from an 8-week high hit this week, after Boehner conceded that his tax bill lacked the votes to pass.
Australian shares slipped to a 0.1 percent drop from a 0.4 percent gain earlier and Japanese Nikkei average erased nearly all gains as the yen strengthened.
The dollar was down 0.2 percent to 84.20 yen, easing from around 84.40 earlier, but still near a 20-month high of 84.62 yen hit on Wednesday.
The euro slumped 0.6 percent to 111.11 yen from around 111.78 yen earlier, but also near a 16-month high of 112.59 yen reached on Wednesday.
The yen was kept under pressure after the Bank of Japan further eased monetary policy as expeced on Thursday, with investors anticipating that the central bank will be persuaded to pursue more drastic measures next year. The incoming prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has called for bolder action by the central bank to help bring Japan out of decades-long deflation.
For all the worries of a fiscal cliff debacle, several data series showed the United States remained on a recovery track, helping to underpin the U.S. currency.
The world's largest economy grew at a faster-than-expected 3.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter, while other data on Thursday showed factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region picked up this month and home resales in November were the best in three years.
The euro fell 0.4 percent to USD 1.3195, off an 8-1/2-month high of USD 1.33085 touched on Wednesday.
The improving US economy and a stabilising Europe eroded the appeal of gold as a crisis hedge, triggering a technical sell-off and heavy liquidation by hedge funds before the year-end.
Spot gold prices plunged more than 1 percent on Thursday to a low of USD 1,635.09 an ounce, the weakest since August 22, sending the market below its 200-day moving average. Gold fell 0.2 percent to USD 1,643.71 on Friday.
US crude fell 0.8 percent to USD 89.38 a barrel and Brent shed 0.4 percent to USD 109.70.
With Agency Inputs
First Published: Friday, December 21, 2012, 09:19