Japanese bond futures rose the most this year as speculation that tensions in the Middle East will keep escalating boosted demand for government debt.
Ten-year yields dropped to the lowest level in two weeks as Asian shares fell before a U.S. report that economists said will show home prices dropped the most in a year, undermining confidence in a recovery in the world’s biggest economy. The cost to insure Japanese debt against default rose after Moody’s Investors Service cut its outlook for the nation’s sovereign- debt rating.
“Rising tension over the Libya situation is leading to falling stocks and rising bonds,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market economist in Tokyo at Mizuho Securities Co., a unit of Japan’s second-largest bank. “Moody’s announcement helps remind overseas investors of the worsening of Japan’s finances over the medium to long term.”
Ten-year bond futures for March delivery gained 0.54 to 139.51 as of 1:50 p.m. at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the biggest gain since Dec. 30.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year bond fell four basis points to 1.265 percent at Japan Bond Trading Co., the nation’s largest interdealer debt broker. The 1.2 percent security due in December 2020 rose 0.346 yen to 99.432 yen. The yield was the lowest since Feb. 4.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index of shares slid 2 percent. Libya erupted into violence yesterday when Muammar Qaddafi’s son threatened “rivers of blood” and deployed security forces on protesters, some of whom claimed control of the second-biggest city, Benghazi.
Oil futures for April delivery surged as much as 9.8 percent on concern crude supplies will be disrupted. Gold rose for a seventh day, the longest run of gains since June.
“The market interprets political unrest in the Middle East as a reason for a flight to quality, although there is a risk that a higher oil price will stoke concern about inflation,” said Shinji Nomura, chief debt strategist at Nikko Cordial Securities Inc. in Tokyo.
Moody’s lowered its outlook for Japan’s Aa2 credit rating to negative from stable, citing the risk the government won’t do enough to tackle the nation’s debt burden. Five-year credit- default swaps on Japan’s government bonds rose three basis points to 84.5 basis points, Citigroup Inc. prices showed.
“The bond market is aware of the status of Japan’s finances,” said Takafumi Yamawaki, chief rate strategist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo. “Should the rating be cut to single A, there would be investors to sell Japan’s bonds.”
The gain in bonds was tempered as demand dropped at a 1.1 trillion-yen ($13.2 billion) sale of 20-year bonds today.
The auction drew bids for 2.64 times amount on offer, the lowest since November. The Finance Ministry set a 2 percent coupon on the debt, down from 2.1 percent at the Jan. 20 sale.
“A 2 percent coupon was lower than the market had expected and made investors hesitate to buy the new securities,” said Akitsugu Bandou, a senior economist in Tokyo at Okasan Securities Co. “Higher bond prices earlier today due to risk aversion also cut demand for the new issues.”
The yield on the previously issued 20-year bonds with a 2.1 percent coupon fell 1.5 basis points to 2.03 percent.
Mizuho, Nikko Cordial, JPMorgan and Okasan are among the 24 primary dealers obliged to bid at the government’s debt sales.
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