A statue of a bull is displayed outside the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. File Picture: REUTERS/BOBBY YIP
A statue of a bull is displayed outside the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. File Picture: REUTERS/BOBBY YIP

Tokyo — Asian shares eased on Thursday after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates and took a more hawkish tone in forecasting a slightly faster pace of tightening, while concern about US-China trade frictions kept investors on edge.

Chinese retail sales and urban investment data were surprisingly weak, pouring cold water on investors’ risk appetite and adding to uncertainty over the world’s second-largest economy after its central bank unexpectedly left interest rates on hold.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.5%. South Korea’s Kospi was off 1.2%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 0.2%. Japan’s Nikkei shed 0.4%. The Fed raised its benchmark overnight lending rate a quarter of a percentage point to a range of 1.75% to 2%, as expected, as a result of strong US economic growth.

Fed policy makers’ rates projections pointed to two additional hikes by the end of this year compared with one previously, based on board members’ median forecast.

"The Fed was slightly more hawkish. But at the same time, the Fed is raising rates because of a strong economy and not because of the need to contain inflation. So that might have helped curb market reactions," said Masayuki Kichikawa, chief macro strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

The spectre of higher borrowing costs hit stocks while boosting US bond yields and the dollar. The overall market reaction was short-lived, however.

"When you look more closely, only eight board members saw two more hikes by the end of year, compared to seven who saw one hike. In March it was seven versus eight. So you are talking about a change of only one board member after all," said Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

"The fact that markets quickly reversed their course suggests the Fed’s decision was broadly in line with expectations," he said.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 lost 0.40% and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.11%. The 10-year US treasuries yield hit a three-week high of 3.010% before quickly slipping back to 2.953%.

Keeping investors in check was concern about US threats to impose tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods.

US President Donald Trump would meet his top trade advisers on Thursday to decide on whether to activate the tariffs, a senior Trump administration official said.

In the currency market, the dollar had erased all its post-Fed gains as traders’ focus quickly shifted to the European Central Bank’s (ECB’s) policy meeting later in the day.

Recent comments from top ECB officials have sparked the expectation that the ECB may offer clues on its intentions to end its bond purchases by the end of the year at its upcoming meeting.

The euro traded at $1.1801, bouncing back from $1.1725 hit after the Fed’s policy announcement and not far off last week’s high of $1.1840 on June 7.

The dollar stood at ¥110.19, losing steam after hitting a three-week high of ¥110.85 in the wake of the Fed’s decision.

The dollar index has erased all of its gains so far this week and stood at 93.501.

The Australian dollar fell 0.3% to $0.7556 after China reported weaker than expected activity data for May, adding to views the economy is finally starting to slow under the weight of a prolonged crackdown on riskier lending that is pushing up borrowing costs for companies and consumers.

Some emerging-market currencies were hit by worries higher US interest rates could prompt investors to shift funds to the US and also squeeze dollar borrowers in emerging markets.

The rand hit six-month lows while the Mexican peso dropped to 16-month lows.

Still, many Asian currencies remained fairly stable so far, thanks to robust growth in the region.

Oil prices were little changed but underpinned by a bigger than expected decline in US crude inventories and surprise drawdowns in petrol and distillates, which indicated strong demand in the world’s top oil consumer.

US crude futures traded at $66.67 a barrel, unchanged on the day but extending their recovery from eight-week low of $64.22 touched last week.

Reuters