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Gold and yen gain as sterling slumps

Posted on February 29, 2016

gold bars©Dreamstime

Investors were rewarded during February for backing gold, long-dated Treasuries and, among currencies, the Japanese yen.

After a turbulent start to the year for global equities, commodities and corporate bonds, asset prices attained a semblance of stability in mid-February, leaving benchmarks above their lows for 2016 as March beckons.

    Markets are focusing on crucial central bank meetings in the coming weeks and whether officials can soothe worries over slowing global activity.

    The yen gained nearly 7 per cent, staging a significant reversal after initially slumping when the Bank of Japan announced a negative interest rate policy surprise in late January. Not so appealing was the performance of Japanese equities, with the Topix index falling 9.4 per cent as its financial sector ended the month lower by a fifth.

    Gold’s price rise of 10.5 per cent for February illustrates 2016’s trend towards haven assets, with long-dated government bonds in the US and eurozone gaining further momentum.

    Among equities, the S&P 500 was on course to end February broadly flat. The benchmark experienced a volatile month, with the net number masking big allocation shifts by investors.

    Among the winners were materials, up 8.9 per cent, while industrials climbed 4.5 per cent and telecoms gained 3.7 per cent. The big losers were once again the financial sector, falling 1.9 per cent, with energy companies down 1.6 per cent.

    The broader European markets slipped further during February, with the Stoxx 600 index staring at a loss of about 3 per cent. Italian stocks led the weakness, down 5.5 per cent, with the biggest losses coming from financial and energy stocks.

    After sliding to a 12-year low of $27.10 a barrel, the international oil benchmark price for Brent crude was set to close February up more than 3 per cent. News of a potential Opec oil production freeze and supply disruptions in Iraq and Nigeria were helping to keep Brent near $36 on Monday.

    Sterling was hit hard by the recent confirmation of the EU referendum in June and the declaration of many prominent Conservative politicians to the Brexit campaign. The pound to the US dollar was down 2.3 per cent and below $1.40, a level the currency has rarely broken below in recent decades.

    Among the various asset classes, a notable loser during February was the Argentine peso, down over a tenth as Mauricio Macri’s offer sought to settle outstanding debt claims of $6.5bn to US holdouts.

    This article has been amended from an earlier version to reflect that the Argentine peso fell over 10 per cent during February and has not risen in value.