TOKYO/SYDNEY : Global stock markets grappled with contagion fears on Tuesday, sparked by troubles at China Evergrande as growing risks the property giant could default on its massive debt pile prompted investors to flee riskier assets.
Asian markets were jittery in volumes thinned by public holidays in China, Taiwan and South Korea. The Hang Seng recovered from an early drop to trade near flat as financials and property firms bounced, while Japan's Nikkei returned from a market holiday with a drop of almost 2per cent.
S&P 500 futures rose 0.3per cent following the index's biggest fall in two months overnight and the Chinese yuan rebounded in offshore trade to recover Monday losses.
Markets in mainland China and Taiwan were still closed on Tuesday while Korean markets remain shut through Wednesday.
Investors fear a messy collapse or liquidation at Evergrande could ripple through China's property sector at a time when growth in the world's second-largest economy is already looking fragile.
A major test looms on Thursday when Evergrande bond interest payments are due. Failing to settle the interest within 30 days would put the bonds in default. Evergrande shares fell 4per cent in Hong Kong, though remained above Monday's lows.
Regulators have warned that its US$305 billion of liabilities could spark broader risks to China's financial system if its debts are not stabilised.
"Whether Evergrande can make payments, and if not, whether the authorities will bail it out - those are the immediate questions," said Masahiro Ichikawa, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management.
"In the longer term, we could see slower Chinese growth hurting surrounding countries."
Elsewhere, Australia's stock market stabilised following Monday's slump in the shares of the country's big iron ore miners BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals as Evergrande's wobbles sparked demand concerns.
"There's a bit of a relief rally," said John Milroy, investment adviser at Ord Minnett. "Whether it lasts or not will really depend on the shape and the action in the iron ore market."
In the currency market, traders took solace after Hong Kong's stock markets stabilised. The yuan recovered most of its Monday drop to trade at 6.4700 per dollar.
The euro traded at US$1.1738, after having touched a near-one-month low of US$1.1700 while the safe-haven yen slipped to 109.48 yen to the dollar.
The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield crept up to 1.3226per cent, though moves were relatively subdued as investors looked to the U.S. Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting starting on Tuesday.
Investors are looking for the tapering timeline on its bond purchases as well as its board members' long-term rates and economic projections.
This week will see policy decisions from many other central banks spanning Brazil, Britain, Hungary, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey.
Oil prices also rebounded a tad in Asia after falling the previous day. U.S. crude futures traded at US$70.90 per barrel. [O/R]
Wobbling cryptocurrencies also found a floor, with bitcoin bouncing from a 1 1/2-month low of US$40,193 to trade just shy of US$43,000.
(Additional reporting and writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)