A statue of a bull is displayed outside the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. File Picture: REUTERS/BOBBY YIP
A statue of a bull is displayed outside the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. File Picture: REUTERS/BOBBY YIP

Sydney — Asian shares fell for a sixth straight session on Thursday, while oil skidded and safe-haven gold gained.

Investor confidence has been shaken by turmoil in emerging markets and jitters over a potentially severe escalation in the US-China trade war.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.4% to hit its lowest since mid-August.

Japan’s Nikkei slipped 0.2% while Australian and New Zealand indices fell more than 1% each.

China’s blue-chip index dipped 0.2% while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slipped 0.5%.

Investors were focused on the China-US trade war, with a public consultation period on the Trump administration’s intent to impose tariffs on an additional $200bn of Chinese goods ending on Thursday.

"An escalation of the US-China trade war may be imminent; the timing is somewhat unclear and this justifies caution even given the (dollar) pullback," JPMorgan analysts said.

"Conviction and participation will likely remain light until an announcement."

Trump said on Wednesday that the US was not yet ready to come to an agreement over trade disputes with China but he said talks would continue.

Measured against a basket of currencies, the dollar index retreated from two-week highs hit earlier this week and was last down 0.1% at 95.06.

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 index lost 0.3% and the Nasdaq composite slipped 1.2%. The Dow Jones industrial average was a rare bright spot, up 0.1%.

Investors are also watching for developments as the US and Canada resume talks about revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Canada insisted there was room to salvage the pact despite few signs a deal is imminent.

The dollar, considered a safe haven at times of turmoil because of its status as the world’s reserve currency, has generally benefited from these trade uncertainties. It has gained 8% since end-March, with currencies in emerging markets taking a hammering.

Pause, not panacea

The financial crises in Argentina and Turkey have sent shivers through emerging markets, while in Indonesia the central bank has had to intervene several times in recent weeks to stem the rupiah’s slide.

Indonesia’s benchmark stock index was last up 0.4% while the rupiah also rose slightly.

An index of emerging-market currencies paused near 15-month lows after two straight days of heavy declines.

But analysts warned about further losses as investors were no longer looking at Argentina, Turkey and South Africa as isolated cases.

They are also fretting over the impact of rising US inflation and interest rates on heavily indebted Asian economies.

"The upshot is that this pause should not be mistaken for a panacea to the ongoing emerging-market crisis, which demands utmost policy vigilance; and perhaps co-ordination," analysts at Mizuho said in a note.

The emerging-market equity index has been crunched in the past month or so, falling for six consecutive sessions and down more than 3% this week.

Analysts at Capital Economics believe there was room for further declines.

A range of factors have hit emerging-market stocks recently: policy tightening by the US Federal Reserve, crises in Turkey and Argentina, the China-US trade war, and broader concern about China’s economy.

"We doubt that the main factors which have caused equities across much of the emerging world to weaken together recently will go away just yet," Capital Economics said.

Argentina’s peso had some respite on Wednesday as government officials in Washington sought emergency funding to stem an economic crisis.

The cash-strapped nation is asking the International Monetary Fund for early disbursements from a $50bn standby loan agreed in June, which had failed to clear concern about the country’s ability to pay off its debt.

Elsewhere, sterling gained for a second day as investors positioned for a favourable Brexit outcome.

It was last up 0.1% ay $1.2914.

In commodities, oil prices fell as emerging market woes weighed on sentiment. US crude eased 14c to $68.58 a barrel while Brent was last down 14c at $77.13.

Gold was stronger with spot gold up 0.2% at $1,198.6 an ounce.