U.S. bond yields hit two-year high; emerging currencies slide

NEW YORK Mon Aug 19, 2013 5:52pm EDT

1 of 7. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly before the closing of the market in New York, August 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. benchmark bond yields hit a two-year high near 3 percent on Monday and emerging market currencies from India to Indonesia tumbled as markets braced for the Federal Reserve to start withdrawing support for the U.S. economy.

Major U.S. stock indexes fell for a fourth straight session. Interest-rate sensitive real estate shares in particular suffered, with the PHLOX Housing Sector Index losing 2.5 percent.

Fear that the Fed will scale back stimulus spending next month has rattled Wall Street of late, with the Dow industrials last week marking their worst weekly run of the year. Political uncertainty in Italy dragged down a broad European stock index.

Minutes from the Fed's last policy meeting will be released on Wednesday and could shed light on when the central bank plans to slow its $85 billion-a-month in bond purchases, a prospect that has been making markets nervous for months.

The Fed has said it expects the economy to strengthen in the second half of this year and into 2014, and recent U.S. data has suggested labor market improvement and rising price pressure.

That has pushed long-term interest rates up sharply over the last few months, with the U.S. benchmark 10-year Treasury yield hitting a two-year high of 2.90 percent on Monday, up more than a percentage point since May.

However, Fed policymakers have also said that any sign of weakness could delay the timetable for tapering bond purchases.

"What you are seeing at the moment in a way is central bankers versus the markets," said ABN Amro economist Nick Koumiss. "The markets are pushing up the rate expectations and central bankers have been trying to pour cold water on the moves, but it is proving more difficult against a background of stronger economic data."

Rates on U.S. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have followed Treasury yields higher, which could threaten a housing market recovery. That weighed on shares of real estate investment trusts such as Mace rich, which fell 1.8 percent.

"Housing's been a bright spot and it's already been dulled a bit because refinancing activity has slowed," said John Canaan, a market strategist at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates.

But he said rates are still at "very low levels" and would need to go much higher to cause serious trouble for housing.

Capital-intensive industries such as miners and utilities, however, could struggle in a higher interest rate environment.

"Anybody with a large amount of short-term debt," said Kim For rest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group. "And if they pay a dividend, it can be at risk."

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI closed down 70.73 points, or 0.47 percent, at 15,010.74. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX fell 9.77 points, or 0.59 percent, to 1,646.06. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC closed down 13.69 points, or 0.38 percent, at 3,589.09

German 10-year government bond yields rose 1.3 basis points to 1.89 percent, having earlier hit their highest since March 2012 at 1.92 percent.

EMERGING TURBULENCE

European shares have held up better in recent weeks. The 17-country euro zone ended an 18-month recession last quarter, growing 0.3 percent, and August business surveys this week are likely to show the modest recovery is slowly broadening out.

But a sharp slide in Italian stocks on Monday weighed on the FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3, which shed 0.6 percent. Uncertainty about the strength of Italy's coalition government hurt shares.

An index of global stocks fell 0.4 percent.

Rising interest rates are also hurting emerging markets that have benefited from large cash inflows courtesy of the Fed's and other central banks' loose monetary policies.

The Indian rupee slid to a record low of 63.30 per dollar, while the country's stock market .INES lost 1.4 percent, extending a 4 percent drubbing sustained on Friday.

In late New York trade, one-month dollar rupee non-deliverable forwards gapped to a record high 64.50, albeit on thin volume, signaling the currency is likely to find more sellers once Asian trade opens for business on Tuesday. Trading in these forward contracts closed in Europe at 63.50.

"With the turnaround of developed markets, foreign institutional investors have greater investment opportunities in Western Europe and North America," said Souring Bane, a professor at Warwick Business School in Britain. "This situation is aggravated with the tapering of quantitative easing."

India's central bank has tried to restrict how much money Indian residents and companies can send offshore, but that only raised fears of outright capital controls that would further undermine the confidence of foreign investors.

Indonesia's rupiah fell to a four-year low of 10,485 per dollar and the strain also showed in MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS, which fell 0.5 percent.

Data later in the week will bring an early reading on Chinese manufacturing from HSBC. Recent data suggested the economy is stabilizing, which should cheer Asian investors.

Eventually higher U.S. yields should make the dollar more attractive, though it has struggled of late on fear that Fed tapering could drive investors out of U.S. fixed-income markets.

The dollar was flat at $1.3337 per euro and was also little changed at 97.55 yen.

"We think over time the dollar will begin to outperform against the major currencies, but at the moment it is being offset by higher yields in Europe, where markets have been very much focused on the improving cyclical momentum," said Lee Hardman, a currency analyst at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.

U.S. crude oil prices fell 46 cents to $107 a barrel despite oil markets' focus on the violent unrest in Egypt, which has stoked fears for exports from oil producers in the Middle East and North Africa.

Copper slid 1.3 percent to $7,306.15 a ton after hitting a 10-week peak of $7,420 on Friday, while gold shed $9.08 to $1,366.70.

(Additional reporting by Marc Jones in London and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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