RPT-GLOBAL MARKETS-Asia bank shares slump on Citigroup worries
Reuters - 2 hours 47 minutes ago
* Asian bank shares drop on Citigroup concerns
* Citi in talk with U.S. to create "bad bank" - reports
* Yen edges higher on safe-haven buying
* Japanese markets closed for public holiday
By Rafael Nam
HONG KONG, Nov 24 - Asian share markets fell around 1 percent on Monday, with bank stocks leading the drop, and so-called safe-haven assets like the yen gained as investors cautiously eyed potential U.S. measures to prop up Citigroup.
Reports that U.S. New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner will be nominated as the new U.S. Treasury Secretary boosted Wall Street on Friday, but had less impact in Asia, which had already ended last week higher as investors thought recent falls to five-year lows were excessive.
Oil edged up as Geithner's appointment eased some uncertainty about the transition in U.S. economic policy, while expectations OPEC might cut output again as early as this week also helped.
Doubts about Citigroup's ability to survive remained a major factor for global markets, as the U.S. lender struggles with mounting losses from credit cards, mortgages and toxic debt.
"I don't think the news is going to change the overall environment. We are still very much in risk aversion mode," said Sharada Selvanathan, a currency strategist at BNP Paribas in Hong Kong, referring to a potential U.S. government deal with Citi.
The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific stocks excluding Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was down 1.7 percent at 0230 GMT. Japanese markets were closed for a public holiday.
Asian shares have dropped 61 percent so far this year, with the bulk of these losses accumulated after the collapse of Lehman Brothers <LEHMQ.PK> in mid-September.
Banks in the region were among the hardest hit on Monday, including Hong Kong-listed shares of HSBC <0005.HK>, South Korea's KB Financial Group <105560.KS> and Commonwealth Bank of Australia <CBA.AX>.
Citigroup <C.N> is looking at putting risky assets in a government-supported "bad bank" -- a step to reassure investors that the rest of its assets were safe, according to reports on Sunday. CNBC reported that the government's priority was to give Citigroup a $10-$20 billion equity infusion, but this would not preclude other actions to help the bank. [ID:nN23478485]
Shares in South Korea <.KS11> slumped more than 2 percent. Shares in Hong Kong <.HSI>, Australia <.AXJO>, Shanghai <.SSEC>, Taiwan <.TWII> and Singapore <.FTSTI> fell 1-2 percent.
Caution ahead of a potential announcement regarding Citigroup dominated trade elsewhere as well, with the yen pushing higher as market players cut exposure to higher-yielding currencies.
Safe-haven capital flows have benefited the Japanese currency as investors, in times of stress, tend to sell assets financed with the cheaply-borrowed yen.
The dollar fell 0.8 percent from U.S. trade on Friday to 95.18 yen <JPY=>, and the euro was down 0.7 percent at 120.01 yen <EURJPY=R>.
Gold retreated to $792.05 <XAU=> from New York's notional close of $799.45 on Friday after safe-haven buying had earlier in the session kept alive a rally that saw prices gain more than 7 percent to their highest in five weeks.
Oil prices rose 37 cents to $50.30 a barrel <CLc1>, giving up some of the earlier gains of more than 2 percent. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meets on Saturday in Cairo amid speculation it could cut production.
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