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IG Markets - Afternoon Thoughts Feb 23

Across Asia, markets are mostly weaker after soft manufacturing and services PMI data out of Europe dampened risk sentiment. This followed on from China’s HSBC flash manufacturing PMI number which came in at 49.7, remaining in contractionary territory and highlighting the need for the recently-announced monetary easing. Equity markets globally now seem to have reached an interesting inflection point after having gotten off to a great start to the year. Investors are still hesitant to buy into the global growth story, due in part to persistent concerns about how bad things can go in Europe, and partly due to uncertainty on how China will manage in its attempt to engineer a soft landing.

Japan’s Nikkei has once again bucked the trend in the Asian region, gaining 0.2% as exporters strengthen on the back of a weaker yen. Australia briefly poked its head above water this morning, only to get sold off on the back of a deepening political crisis. Kevin Rudd resigned as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a leadership vote for Monday. Looking at the rest of the region, the Hang Seng is down 0.8%, while the Shanghai is up 03%. US and European markets are facing flat to modest losses at the open.

Greece fears seemed to have receded a touch last night, with global economic data seemingly the overriding driver. However, Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager caused a stir by saying he had ‘doubts’ that Greece could implement the second bailout program. The talk on trading floors today is that once again Germany will stand firm and resist increasing the size of the financial ‘firewall’, with a spokesman for Angela Merkel suggesting there was no need to increase the size of the ESM. WTI continues to find support after the recent break of the May high and commentary from the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei , who said, ‘No obstacles can stop Iran's nuclear work’. This suggests that tension in the Middle-East will see both WTI and Brent supported, again highlighting that gold is in vogue as a hedge against any future spikes. The rising oil price is a concern, with some analysts feeling another $10 rise in prices could severely crimp global growth.

There were quite a number of earnings reports out today, with some of the well-received releases coming from Insurance Australia Group, Cabcharge and David Jones. IAG’s interim net profit was down 10.6% to $144 million, but was well above an expected $110 million after a lower-than-expected $396 million in claims from natural disasters. IAG confirmed its previous insurance margin guidance. DJS’ total sales were down 3.1% for the second quarter to $598.5 million, better than the $557 million expected. The company has launched Australia’s first ever department store and reaffirmed first-half profit guidance down 15%-20%. We continue to see a number of stocks that have been smashed recently with poor results expected, but not delivered, bouncing hard.

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