May 16, 2019 / 3:40 PM / in 4 days

Investors hold on to European safe-haven debt as growth, trade worries rise

LONDON (Reuters) - Investors bought into European safe-haven government bonds again on Thursday, rattled by U.S.-China trade tensions, concerns about a slowdown in global growth and fears that Italy may break European Union fiscal rules.

The nervousness in bond markets contrasted with a more forgiving tone in equities, and analysts said bond investors remained on edge about the cocktail of risks building.

Germany’s benchmark 10-year bond yield recovered slightly to -0.09% but remained close to 2-1/2 year lows touched on Wednesday at minus 0.13%. At one point on Thursday they traded below Japanese 10-year bond yields, with the gap between the two at its widest since late 2016.

Dutch 10-year bond yields fell towards zero percent, which would mark its lowest since late 2016, and French 10-year bond yields fell to just 0.278%, their lowest since 2016.

Euro zone government bond yields: tmsnrt.rs/2W7KIyg

Overnight news that the United States has hit Chinese telecoms giant Huawei with severe sanctions added another incendiary element to the U.S.-China trade dispute and kept investors cautious.

A surprise drop in United States retail sales in April on Wednesday followed weaker Chinese economic data and renewed worries about the health of the global economy, sending investors into U.S government bonds.

“There’s a lot more risk and uncertainty in global growth mainly through trade concerns,” said Rabbani Wahhab, senior fixed income portfolio manager at London and Capital.

“We’re concerned that the volume of trade, which is very important to the euro zone, is going to hurt more as we go through 2019 and that’s showing up in the demand for high-grade euro zone bonds.”

France saw strong demand at an auction of bonds maturing in 2022 and 2025 on Thursday.

Investors raised bets on a rate cut from the European Central Bank, with Eonia money market futures pricing in roughly a 30% chance of a 10 basis point rate cut by the end of the year..

In another worrying sign for the ECB, a key market gauge of long-term euro zone inflation expectations fell to 1.32%. That was its lowest level since 2016 — a year after the ECB ramped up asset purchases and cut rates to record lows to fight deflation.

U.S. two-year Treasury yields managed to rise away from 15-month lows hit on Wednesday as strong U.S. homebuilding numbers helped reverse some of the pessimism. The 10-year Treasury yield also rebounded.

ITALIAN RESPITE

Italian bonds won respite from this week’s sharp selloff on concern that Italy is headed for another showdown with Brussels over its budget expansion plans.

The 10-year Italian yield fell six bps to 2.68% — holding below Wednesday’s peak of around 2.81%, its highest level since February — as one of the two ruling parties pushed back against the idea it would grow public debt in the third-largest and heavily indebted euro zone member.

The ruling 5-Star Movement will oppose any budget measures that increase public debt, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio told a newspaper.

“Risk sentiment showed some signs of rebounding late yesterday but I would still err on the side of caution,” said KBC rates strategist Mathias van der Jeugt.

Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Catherine Evans

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