GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks hunker down as U.S. debt deadline looms


* Washington may be closing in on a deal to resolve debtcrisis

* Asian stocks listless but still near five-month peak

* Safe-haven yen broadly softer on hopes of U.S. deal

* European stocks seen flat to higher

By Ian Chua

SYDNEY, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Asian stocks marked time onWednesday with nervous investors praying that frantic talks inWashington to avert a U.S. debt default could lead to a dealbefore the Oct 17 deadline, after which the government would runout of ways to borrow.

U.S. Senate aides said an agreement to lift the government's$16.7 trillion borrowing limit was near but details still neededto be worked out, leaving markets clinging to hopes that anannouncement will be made later on Wednesday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.1 percent, having drifted in and outof positive territory. It was still not far off a five-monthpeak set on Tuesday. Tokyo's Nikkei was flat.

Financial bookmakers expect a similarly cautious start forEuropean stocks with London's FTSE and France's CAC seen steady. Germany's DAX was expected to open33 to 51 points higher, or as much as 0.6 percent.

"Today is definitely not the day to be conducting anyserious business as traders across the globe will be hypnotisedby their TVs/terminals and anxiously waiting for something tohit the news wires," Jonathan Sudaria, a trader at CapitalSpreads in London, wrote in a client note.

Commodity traders were firmly on the sidelines, leavingcopper, U.S. crude and bullion little changed.Copper last traded at $7,238 a tonne, while U.S. crude was at$101.08 a barrel. Spot gold stood at $1,280 an ounce.

In the currency market, hopes of a breakthrough weighed onthe safe-haven yen, allowing the dollar to climb 0.4 percent to98.53. The euro advanced 0.3 percent to 133.18 yen.

That helped the dollar index, which tracks thegreenback's performance against a basket of currencies, hold itsground at 80.536, not far off a one-month high of 80.703 set onTuesday.


If Washington doesn't reach a deal by Oct. 17, thegovernment will by law no longer be able to add to the nationaldebt, and will have to rely on incoming revenue and about $30billion in cash to pay the nation's many obligations.

That money is expected to run out quickly and Washingtonwould start missing payments in the weeks ahead. A globalfinancial crisis could follow if investors decide that U.S.debt, used as collateral for trillions of dollars in financialdeals, no longer provided adequate security.

Fitch Ratings warned on Tuesday that it could cut the UnitedStates' prized AAA credit rating.

With a large interest payment due on Oct 31, and $58 billionin other obligations coming due the following day, many analystshave circled Oct 31 as a possible date for default if Congresshas still failed to reach an agreement.

But Elliot Clarke, an economist at Westpac Bank in Sydney,said the key date to watch out for is Nov. 15 when $30 billionof interest payments are due.

"Moody's and S&P have ruled that a default will only occurif interest payments are missed. Consequently 15 Novemberbecomes the critical date," he said.

"How the market will respond to such a scenario is unknownas we have never really experienced such an event."

That is one reason why markets have so far been surprisinglyresilient as investors have found it hard to price in a U.S.default, traders said.

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