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Stocks slip as China rate cuts fail to calm nerves

Asian stocks fell as investors feared fresh rate cuts in China would not be enough stabilise its economy.

Asian stocks fell on Wednesday as investors feared fresh rate cuts in China would not be enough stabilise its cooling economy. Picture: stock.xchng

HONG KONG - Asian stocks fell on Wednesday as investors feared fresh rate cuts in China would not be enough stabilise its cooling economy or halt a collapse in its stock markets.

China's key share indexes attempted to move higher several times in early trade only to be slapped back by waves of selling, reflecting investors' views that much more support was needed from the government and the central bank.

Following a near 20 percent plunge in stock prices in three days, the People's Bank of China cut interest rates and lowered the amount of reserves banks late on Tuesday in a much-anticipated move that some economists said was long overdue.

While the double-barrelled policy moves were initially cheered by arkets around the world, the impact didn't last long as investors quickly resumed their focus on the deteriorating outlook for China and the global economy.

By midmorning, China's CSI300 index <.csi300 was down percent at points while the shanghai composite index></.csi300>

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.2 percent in early trade and was just shy of a three-year low hit in the previous session.

Japan's Nikkei was the lone bright spot, rising 1.3 percent, while Australia fell 0.4 percent.

Companies such as mining giant BHP Billiton have softened expectations of demand growth from China while countries most exposed to China's economy, such as Indonesia, have dialled down their growth forecasts for 2015 in recent days.

In a sign of how fearful investors have become of risky assets, US stock index futures resumed their descent in early Asian trade with the U.S. S&P 500 mini futures down 0.4 percent, nearing closer to Monday's 10-month low of 1,831.

Overnight, major US stock indexes shot up after China's policy easing but later gave up all their gains, with the S&P 500 ending down 1.4 percent.

US stock futures were down 0.2 percent in Asian trade, suggesting further weakness on Wall Street later in the day.

Fixed income markets were active with investors rushing for cover to government debt and cash. The 10-year note traded to a low yield of 1.90 percent earlier this week before recovering to trade at 2.06 percent currently as prices rose. It was close to 2.50 percent barely a month ago.

"Some parts of the Asian bond markets have become quite illiquid and investors are only buying high-quality paper amid this selloff," said Hayden Briscoe, fixed-income director at AllianceBernstein in Hong Kong and part of a team that manages $250 in assets globally.

The CBOE Market Volatility Index was still elevated at 36, indicating significant uncertainty, even though it was below the previous day's peak of 53.3, which was the highest level since January 2009.

In currencies, the dollar has also broadly lost steam as traders unwound massive carry trade bets in recent years based on higher yielding assets and instead flocked to safe-haven currencies such as euro and yen.

The euro was $1.1529, little changed from late US trade, but more than a full cent above Tuesday's low of $1.1396.

The dollar also slipped back to 118.90, failing to maintain its brief foray above the 120 mark.

Commodity prices hovered just above multi-year lows hit earlier in the week, but concerns that softer demand from China would worsen global supply gluts kept a lid on them.

A 19-commodity Thomson Reuters/Core Commodity CRB Index was just holding above lows not seen since 2003.

Brent crude futures last traded at $43.36 per barrel, about a dollar above 6 1/2-year low of $42.23 on Monday.

The price of copper, often considered a proxy for global economic activity because of the metal's extensive use, bounced 2.3 percent to $5,065 per tonne.