The ASX 200 slipped almost 0.2 percent in early trade, despite most sectors seeing some gains. The heavily-weighted financial subindex Down Under declined more than 0.5 percent as shares of the country’s so-called Big Four banks saw losses. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group slipped 0.46 percent, Commonwealth Bank of Australia declined 0.89 percent, Westpac fell 0.53 percent and National Australia Bank shed 0.36 percent.
Meanwhile, futures also pointed to a cautious start for Japan’s Nikkei 225. The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 20,735 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 20,740. The benchmark index last closed at 20,719.33.
The IMF now projects a 3.5 percent growth rate worldwide for 2019 and 3.6 percent for 2020. These are 0.2 and 0.1 percentage points below its last forecasts in October — making it the second downturn revision in three months.
“A range of triggers beyond escalating trade tensions could spark a further deterioration in risk sentiment with adverse growth implications, especially given high levels of public and private debt,” the Fund said.
These potential triggers include a “no-deal” Brexit for the U.K. and a deeper-than-envisaged slowdown in China. The IMF report comes on the back of China reporting its slowest economic growth in almost three decades.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, said: “After two years of solid expansion, the world economy is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising. But even as the economy continues to move ahead … it is facing significantly higher risks.”
The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.314 after touching an earlier high of 96.434.
The Japanese yen, widely viewed as a safe-haven currency, traded at 109.67 against the greenback after seeing highs below 109.5 in the previous session. The Australian dollar was at $0.7159 after slipping from highs above $0.717 yesterday.
— CNBC’s Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.