Business World

Monday 14 October 2019

Greece crisis: European bonds and stocks on the defensive before tight referendum vote

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waves as he leaves his office at Maximos Hall after a marathon meeting in Athens
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waves as he leaves his office at Maximos Hall after a marathon meeting in Athens

European bonds and stocks traded cautiously at Friday's market opening before a Greek referendum on EU-prescribed reforms that could determine the country's future in the euro zone and which polls suggest could go either way.

Yields on top-rated German 10-year Bunds, the benchmark for European borrowing costs, fell as some investors chose to preserve their capital in low-yielding but relatively safe assets. European stocks dipped and were set for the biggest weekly drop in two months, while the euro edged higher.

The moves were marginal, though, as investors did not want to position too heavily on either side.

Supporters of Greece's bailout terms have taken a wafer-thin lead over the "No" vote backed by the leftist government, 48 hours before Sunday's referendum, an opinion poll showed.

The poll by the respected ALCO institute for newspaper Ethnos put the "Yes" camp on 44.8 percent against 43.4 percent for "No". But the lead was within the pollster's 3.1 percentage point margin of error, and 11.8 percent of respondents said they were still undecided.

"Attention will be pinned on Greece and this is likely to see investors cautious as we head into the weekend ... Even if we get a Yes' vote, this means the country must go back to the negotiation table and try to knock something together again," IG market analyst Stan Shamu said.

"However, it's a lot worse on the other side as a 'No' vote will present a host of uncertainties that could really rattle markets ... Either way, traders will need to buckle up for a tumultuous Monday."

Bund yields were down 1.5 basis points at 0.84 percent. The FTSEurofirst 300 edged 0.2 percent lower to 1,524.75 points, down 3.1 percent for the week.

In lower-rated euro zone bond markets, Italian and Spanish 10-year yields were down around 2 bps on the day, both at 2.30 percent, having pulled away from German equivalents by around 30 bps over the course of the week.

The euro rose 0.2 percent to $1.1102.

While Europe was fixated on Greece, a rout in Chinese stock markets continued. Chinese markets, which had risen as much as 110 percent from November to a peak in June, have collapsed since June 12, losing more than 20 percent.

The Shanghai Composite Index was down 5.8 percent, while the CSI300 Index fell 5.4 percent.


The dollar fell against a basket of currencies on Friday, hurt by softer-than-expected U.S. employment data.

The U.S. payrolls report showed employers hired 223,000 workers last month, fewer than the 230,000 increase forecast in a Reuters poll. The government also downgraded its reading on April and May job growth while wage growth remained subdued.

The dollar index was down 0.15 percent at 95.977, retreating from a four-week high of 96.422 hit earlier in the day. The dollar was buying 123.03 yen, flat on the day.

"With liquidity thin and the Greek referendum coming up, not many would want to take large positions going into the weekend. The U.S. jobs report has taken the wind out of the sails for the dollar for the time being," said Alvin Tan, currency strategist at Societe Generale.

Oil prices dropped as a rising U.S. rig count stoked fears of oversupply. Brent crude futures were down 21 cents at $61.86 per barrel, while U.S. crude futures were $56.66.


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