A man wearing a protective face mask talks on his cellphone in front of a screen showing the Nikkei index outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA
A man wearing a protective face mask talks on his cellphone in front of a screen showing the Nikkei index outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan. Picture: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA

Sydney — Asian shares managed a semblance of calm on Thursday as the US Federal Reserve signalled it was in no rush to taper stimulus, though the mood was fragile as investors waited to see if Beijing could stem the recent bloodletting in Chinese shares.

There was also some promising news on the long-awaited US infrastructure bill as the Senate voted to move ahead on the $1.2-trillion deal.

Yet much depended on how China’s markets fared amid reports regulators had called banks overnight to ease market fears about tighter rules on the education sector.

“The message is that profit has not become a dirty word in the Chinese system of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, only in certain sectors,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at NAB.

“How successful the messaging by the authorities will be in putting a floor under the broader Chinese stock market remains to be seen.”

For now, gains were tentative with blue-chip shares up 1.4%, but still down more than 5% for the week, while the Shanghai Composite Index added 1.1%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan bounced 1.1%, having slid to its lowest level since early December on Wednesday. Japan’s Nikkei edged up 0.4%, while South Korea was flat.

S&P 500 futures eased 0.2%, as did Eurostoxx 50 futures. Nasdaq futures dipped 0.3%, perhaps weighed by a retreat in Facebook stock.

Facebook shed 3.5% after the company warned revenue growth would “decelerate significantly”, even as it reported strong advertising sales.

Markets had see-sawed overnight when the Federal Reserve policy statement said “progress” had been made towards its economic goals, seeming to bring nearer the day when it might start tapering its massive asset buying campaign.

However, Fed chair Jerome Powell took a dovish turn by emphasising that they were “some ways away” from substantial progress on jobs.

“The difference in tone between the statement and press conference may simply reflect Powell being on the dovish side of the committee,” said JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli.

“In any event, there are three more job reports before the November meeting, and two more between the November and December meetings,” he added. “We continue to expect a December announcement, though we see a risk it could occur in November.”

The next Fed meeting is not until late September, offering the market a break from tapering talk.

For bonds, the net result was that US 10-year yields eased back to 1.236% after a brief pop higher, leaving them not far from recent five-month lows of 1.128%.

The pattern was the same for the dollar, which edged up on the Federal Open Market Committee statement, only to flag on Powell’s remarks.

That left the euro up at $1.1846, and above its recent four-month trough of $1.1750.

The dollar faded to ¥109.70, and away from a top of 110.58 early in the week. All of which saw the dollar index dip to 92.236, off its recent top at 93.194.

In commodity markets, gold remained sidelined at $1,808/oz, having now spent 17 sessions in a $30 range.

Oil prices firmed after data showed US crude inventories fell to pre-pandemic levels, bringing the market’s focus back to tight supplies rather than rising Covid-19 infections.

Brent was last off 7 US cents at $74.67 a barrel, while US crude lost 4c to $72.35.



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