A man walks past an electronic display showing Asian markets indices outside a brokerage in Tokyo on January 8 2020. Picture: REUTERS/Issei Kato
A man walks past an electronic display showing Asian markets indices outside a brokerage in Tokyo on January 8 2020. Picture: REUTERS/Issei Kato

Singapore/New York — Asian stock markets eked out a 10th consecutive session of gains on Wednesday, but momentum ebbed as doubts about the global recovery from the pandemic returned ahead of the US Federal Reserve meeting.

The sideways moves in equities cap two weeks of stock market gains, turbocharged by Friday’s data showing a completely unexpected rise in US employment in May. Safe havens from gold to the Japanese yen won support as optimism ebbed.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3% and Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.1%. The yen held on to two days of big gains and commodity currencies nursed Tuesday’s losses. Gold rose slightly.

Focus has switched to the Fed’s economic outlook and whether a steepening of the US yield curve during last week’s bond market sell-off might prompt intervention at longer tenors.

“The Fed tonight is a key variable in determining whether this is a pit stop or U-turn,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

No action is expected from the Fed, but any hit of taking the foot off the pedal could hammer risk sentiment and lift the dollar.

The Fed’s economic projections, guidance as to how long and how low rates can be held down and the prospect of yield-curve control will be closely watched, Varathan said in a note.

A statement from the Fed is due at 6pm GMT followed by a news conference half an hour later and markets seem to be idling ahead of that. S&P 500 futures rose 0.6% to recoup some of Tuesday’s losses, but other moves were smaller.

Benchmark stock indices in Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea rose less than 0.3%. Benchmark US 10-year yields were steady at 0.8287%, 13 basis points below a Friday peak of 0.9590%.

Great expectations

The Fed meeting takes place amid near-euphoric investor optimism about a swift recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic but, last week’s US jobs report aside, economic signals and rising China-US tension paint a dire picture.

After weeks of ignoring woeful data, the prospect of a slow recovery now seems to be weighing on investors’ minds and feeding into the growing expectation for the Fed to do even more.

China’s May factory gate prices fell by the sharpest annual rate in more than four years, data showed on Wednesday, a sign the pandemic is dragging on global demand.

Overnight, data showed German exports and imports in April posted their biggest declines since records began in 1990. The country is facing its deepest recession since World War 2.

“We expect the Fed will do more especially when the ‘unprecedented’ [second quarter of 2020] comes to pass, including expanding its various lending programmes and even dabble into yield curve control,” analysts at Singapore UOB Bank said on Wednesday.

Currency markets were largely becalmed ahead of the meeting, with risk-sensitive Australian and New Zealand dollars steady after being repelled from multi-month peaks they hit early on Tuesday.

The Aussie last sat at $0.6969, about 1% below an 11-month high $0.7043 hit a day earlier, while the kiwi was steady at $0.6522. The yen held near a week-high at ¥107.67 to the dollar, reflecting caution.

Gold was firm at $1,716.29/oz.

Oil prices were on the back foot on the renewed concern about oversupply and underlying economic weakness. Brent crude was last down 1% for the session at $40.72 a barrel and US crude was 1.4% weaker at $38.38 a barrel.