GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares recover slightly, but Greece fears remain

Last Updated: Thu, May 17, 2012 06:20 hrs

* MSCI Asia ex-Japan rises 1 pct, Nikkei adds 0.7 pct

* Euro off four-month low, dollar eases from four-month peak

* U.S. crude futures, gold recover; Brent near four-month lows

* European shares seen mixed

By Chikako Mogi

TOKYO, May 17 (Reuters) - Asian shares recovered some ground on Thursday from the previous day's sell-off, but investors found little reason to chase risk amid deepening turmoil in Greece and fears of contagion to other stressed euro zone economies.

Against a background of financial instability in Greece's banking sector, European shares were set to start mixed, with financial spreadbetters predicting that major European markets

would open between a 0.2 percent drop and a 0.1 percent rise. U.S. stock futures were up 0.6 percent.

Gold and the euro recouped most of their losses from Wednesday as signs of stability in share markets helped improve sentiment slightly, but Brent bore the brunt of general risk aversion, slipping to a near four-month low.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 1 percent on short covering, after sliding more than 3 percent - its biggest one-day drop in six months - and hitting a new four-month low on Wednesday. The index has shed about 8 percent so far in May.

Bucking the general trend of recovery in Asia-Pacific, Australian shares fell to a four-month low, with banks easing on more signs of pressure on margins.

Japan's Nikkei stock average gained 0.7 percent.

News on Wednesday that some Greek banks face emergency funding needs dealt a further blow to risk sentiment, already beaten down by worries about much slower economic growth in China, a fragile U.S. jobs market and a shock trading loss at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

"May is typically a bear month for markets as players often look to take advantage of the saying, 'sell in May and go away,' but all the negative factors compounded to give momentum to sell risk assets indiscriminately," said Bob Takai, general manager of Sumitomo Corp's energy division, adding that the markets will likely remain depressed for the next two to three quarters.

The European Central Bank said it has stopped providing liquidity to some Greek banks that have not been successfully recapitalised.

Greece on Wednesday put a senior judge in charge of an emergency government to lead the nation to its second election in just over a month on June 17. The vote will likely determine whether the highly indebted country remains in the common currency area.

The head of the World Bank warned on Wednesday that a decision by Greece to leave Europe's common currency zone would raise big questions about the impact on Spain, Italy and other euro zone countries with big debt loads that are undergoing structural reforms.

ANZ of Australia said in a research note that its baseline scenario was a 70 percent probability of the euro zone staying intact and a 50 percent probability of a policy shift to growth over austerity, giving some support to risk assets and the euro.

It put the chance of a disorderly exit at 4 percent and the likelihood of a total break-up of the euro zone at just 1 percent.

Stress levels eased slightly but remained high in Asian credit markets. The spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index narrowed 4 basis points to hover just below its widest level since mid-January.

The euro added 0.2 percent to $1.2740, off a four-month low of $1.2681 reached on Wednesday, and the Australian dollar, typically linked to risk appetite, rose 0.4 percent to $0.9949, having hit a five-month low of $0.9870 on Wednesday.

The dollar index measured against key currencies eased from a four-month high reached on Wednesday.

Three month euro/dollar cross currency basis swaps , which show funding stress when investors compete for dollars, on Wednesday widened to minus 54 basis points from around minus 46 bps in early May, but far below minus 167.5 marked in November when investors feared another credit crunch.


Sumitomo's Takai said commodities were being pressured across the board by overwhelming risk aversion. He saw more scope to the downside until prices reached "fair value" levels as measured by production costs, which were below current levels.

"Over the long run, commodities have not lost their appeal as being underpinned by demand from emerging economies. But for now, they can't escape the pressure to cut risks across asset classes which will likely last until investors regain confidence in financial markets," he said.

U.S. crude futures gained 0.9 percent to $93.61 a barrel, after settling down more than $1 on Wednesday. Brent futures were down 0.1 percent to $109.69 a barrel.

Spot gold recovered from Wednesday's 4-1/2 month low of $1,527 an ounce to trade up 0.8 percent at $1,550.11 as bargain hunting set in.

Some positive economic news emerged from Japan, the world's third-largest economy, helping to soothe sentiment.

Japan's economy bounced back from a year-end lull in the first quarter, powering ahead of other major industrial nations to grow 1.0 percent in the January-March quarter. Growth in the final three months of 2011 was revised to flat from a 0.2 percent contraction, data showed.

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