World equities hit two-week low

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Bullsandbears REUTERS A bull and a bear styrofoam figurine.

London - Global equities slipped to a two-week low on Friday as a sell-off on Wall Street led by technology and biotech shares and triggered by concerns that valuations are over stretched spread to Asia and Europe.

The MSCI All-Country World index fell 0.4 percent by 09:59 SA time to a two-week low, while the MSCI Europe index dropped 0.8 percent.

That followed a 3.1 percent slide in the tech-heavy US Nasdaq index on Thursday and a 2.4 percent decline in Japan's Nikkei Average on Friday.

What increasingly looks like a major portfolio shift from momentum plays in US technology and biotechnology stocks was having a knock-on effect across all regions and sectors, pressuring even defensive shares.

Momentum investing involves buying stocks that are already trending higher, often taking their price/earnings ratios into the stratosphere. When the momentum turns, prices can fall rapidly as investors rush to the exits.

“The sell-off is the result of increasing concerns about the future earnings growth,” said Christian Stocker, equity strategist at UniCredit in Munich.

“Valuations are high compared to previous years and the trend of earnings estimates is very muted in the US and almost flat in Europe.”

Technology stocks led the retreat in Europe, with the sector index, following its US counterpart, down 1.9 percent on growing fears the shares have risen too far, too fast and are now relatively expensive compared with the broader market.

The European healthcare index was down 1.4 percent.

The STOXX Europe 600 Technology index, which surged 27 percent last year after gaining 22 percent in 2012, is down 3 percent so far this year.

According to Thomson Reuters Datastream, the tech sector is the most expensive in Europe, trading at 19 times its 12-month forward earnings, against a 10-year average of about 16 times, and 14 times for the broader STOXX 600 index.

“It's a pre-Easter, pre-earnings season correction and represents an opportunity to invest in the value part of the stock market as the cyclical shares suffer from past hype,” said Didier Duret, global chief investment officer at ABN-AMRO Private Banking.

With stocks out of favour, government bonds were set to benefit.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury note fell to its lowest since February 27 at 2.62 percent US10YT=RR and was last at 2.655 percent in Europe.

The dollar stabilised after five sessions of losses against a basket of currencies.

The dollar index was flat at 79.411 having hit a three-week low of 79.33 on Thursday.

The recent fall in the dollar and weaker equities helped safe-haven gold trade near its highest in 2-1/2 weeks.

Oil remained soft in the wake of Thursday's disappointing trade data from China and the prospect of increased supply.

Brent crude fell 0.2 percent to $107.29 a barrel. - Reuters



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