TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares struggled and credit markets weakened on Monday, with investors still nervous despite the agreement on formation of a new Greek unity government intent on avoiding imminent debt default.
Investors were also shifting their attention to another debt-burdened country, Italy, which faces political instability as well, putting it under pressure to swiftly restore its credibility on financial markets.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan, which traded between plus 0.2 percent and minus 0.6 percent, was down 0.2 percent while Japan’s Nikkei stock average .N225 ended down 0.39 percent.
U.S. stock index futures reversed course and fell into negative territory after opening higher, as market players refocused on a lack of commitment to details that are crucial in making the Greek bailout program work.
The spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment grade index, a gauge of investor appetite for risk, widened by 4 basis points as equities languished.
“Credit market spreads are a bit wider, while equities are mixed, because debt issues may matter more for Europe and the credit markets are more bearish over these kinds of uncertainties,” said Frances Cheung, senior strategist for Asia ex-Japan at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
“We’ll watch out for any Italian debt auctions to see where demand is coming from,” she said, questioning the ability of some euro zone countries to sustain themselves without selling their own debts.
Italy is the third largest economy in the euro zone with the biggest government bond market. With Italy’s debt levels stuck at 120 percent of GDP, the country’s debt problems would pose a much bigger risk to the financial markets than Greece does.
Italy’s borrowing costs have been rising sharply over the past several weeks, with the Italian 10-year government bond yields rising about 85 basis points since late September.
Italian 10-year government bond yields hit record highs of around 6.4 percent on Friday, expanding the spread of Italian 10-year yields over Bunds to a new lifetime high.
The cost of insuring Italian debt against default has also shot up, with five-year Italian CDS nearly tripling since the beginning of the third quarter to around 500 basis points on growing concerns over the country’s fiscal strains just as Greece was getting battered in the market over its debt crisis.
European shares were expected gain modestly, with financial bookmakers calling for Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE index to open up 0.3 percent, Germany’s DAX .GDAXI to rise 0.5 percent, and France’s CAC-40 .FCHI to gain about 0.5 percent.
With many trading centers in Asia on holiday on Monday, including India, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore, price actions may not necessarily be all that representative given thin volumes, analysts said.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and opposition leader Antonis Samaras agreed on a new coalition government to approve the bailout plan, which requires painful fiscal reform, before elections.
Papandreou and Samaras had been scrambling to reach a deal before finance ministers of euro countries meet in Brussels later on Monday, to show that Greece is serious about taking steps needed to stave off bankruptcy.
Political wrangling in Greece had sparked panic in global financial markets on fears that it would fail to save the country from defaulting and to stop the sovereign debt crisis from spreading to other countries in the euro zone.
While Greece has for now managed to stay on track to reduce its huge debt, market jitters remain over a lack of funding to beef up the bailout fund after the euro zone failed to get any concrete pledge for new money at a G20 summit on Friday.
“We believe what will matter more for markets in the near term is the relatively disappointing outcome of the G20 meeting, given the lack of progress on backstop facilities,” Barclays Capital analysts said in a report.
“Any further rise in Italian yields and spreads would make us very cautious about cross-market implications for risk assets,” they said.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said his country would welcome quarterly monitoring by the International Monetary Fund of pension and labor market reforms and privatizations he had promised to implement.
Leaders of the world’s major economies deferred until next year any move to provide more crisis-fighting resources to the IMF.
Euro zone officials said the region’s finance ministers will accelerate work on strengthening their bailout fund to enhance its market credibility by the end of November, a month early, as concern grows about Italy.
Hong Kong shares .HSI opened slightly higher but then slipped to be off 0.1 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC fell 0.4 percent.
Hong Kong and China shares were weighed down by financials as investors prepared for key economic data this week including the latest monthly inflation data from China on Wednesday.
China’s data is expected to show continued easing in price pressures as growth moderates, underpinning talk the authorities are likely to loosen their stance on monetary policy.
The euro fell 0.5 percent to $1.3760 against the dollar, retreating from an earlier high of $1.3837, while the Australian dollar, which often is seen as a gauge for risk appetite given its close link to commodities, dropped 0.6 percent.
“For now, they’ve managed to stave off any panic, but it’s not looking positive for them,” said Grant Turley, strategist at ANZ in Sydney. “It feels like a low conviction, fatigued market at this point in time.”
A retreat in investor appetite for riskier assets helped safe-haven government bonds, with U.S. Treasury futures flat from late New York levels on Friday of 130-08/32, after falling to around 130 in early Asia on Monday.
Spot gold rose 1 percent to its highest level since September 22 of around $1,771 an ounce on Monday, as uncertainties over the euro zone debt crisis renewed bids for safe-haven assets.
Data on Friday showed money managers, including hedge funds and other large speculators, raised their bullish bets in gold futures and options in the week to November 1, a trend traders and analysts believe will remain intact.
Additional reporting by Ian Chua in Sydney; Editing by Ramya Venugopal