Asian shares slip on cautious Fed
Tokyo — Asian shares turned lower on Thursday after the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates as expected but signalled a higher bar to further policy easings.
Treasury yields rose broadly and the curve flattened as Fed chair Jerome Powell took a cautious approach to any further reductions in borrowing costs, while division among central bankers has increased uncertainty over how much further rates might fall.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.36%. Hong Kong shares shed 0.96%, but Japan’s Nikkei rose 1.01%.
The yen rose from a seven-week low versus the dollar and held onto those gains after the Bank of Japan (BOJ) kept policy on hold, as expected, but signalled it could ease in October.
Central banks around the world have been loosening policy to counter the risks of low inflation and recession. Easier monetary policy has generally supported equities.
However, some analysts argue that a bond market rally has gone too far, saying yields have fallen too fast and curves flattened too much. Others are worried about the growing amount of sovereign debt with negative yields.
“This is a small positive for share prices as long as there is no recession,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney.
“The only problem is a 25-basis-point cut was already expected, and the comments and dot-plot forecasts were not as dovish as the market hoped. I think the Fed will have to cut again. There are still some risks from the yield curve.”
US stock futures fell 0.23% in Asia on Thursday. The S&P 500 reversed losses to end 0.03% higher after Powell said he did not see an imminent recession or think the Fed will adopt negative rates.
The Fed cut interest rates for a second time in 2019 to 1.75%-2.00% in a 7-3 vote but signalled further cuts are unlikely as the labour market remains strong.
The rate cut was widely expected, but the split vote has raised some concern about predicting the future path of monetary policy.
So-called dot-plot forecasts from all 17 policymakers showed even broader disagreement, with seven expecting a third rate cut in 2019, five seeing the current rate cut as the last for 2019, and five who appeared to have been against even Wednesday’s move.
The yield on benchmark 10-year treasury notes rose to 1.8013%, while the two-year yield rose to 1.7703%.
The spread between two- and 10-year treasury yields, the most commonly used measure of the yield curve, was near the lowest since September 9.
The curve inverted on August 14 for the first time since 2007 when long-term yields traded below short-term yields, a widely accepted indicator of coming recession.
The Australian dollar fell 0.5% to $0.6793 after data showed the nation’s jobless rate rose slightly to 5.3% in August, bolstering expectations for the central bank to cut rates.
The yen rose around 0.3% to 108.14 per dollar.
The BOJ maintained its pledge to guide short-term interest rates at minus 0.1% and the 10-year government bond yield around 0%.
Investors will closely watch BOJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s post-decision media conference later on Thursday to gauge how he assesses risks to Japan’s economic outlook.
US crude futures rose 0.24% to $58.25 per barrel. Oil markets have stabilised after attacks in Saudi Arabia over the weekend triggered a supply shock and sent prices soaring, but the volatility is still a risk as Middle East tensions remain high.
Washington has blamed Iran for the attacks, a charge Tehran denies. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has said the strike was “an act of war”.
Sterling traded at 88.50p per euro, near its strongest level since May 30. The pound was little changed at $1.2467.
Investors are awaiting a Bank of England policy meeting later on Thursday. The bank is expected to keep rates unchanged, but uncertainty about how the UK will exit from the EU has complicated the outlook for monetary policy.
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