Asian shares fall as China growth and Fed hikes worry investors
Shanghai — Asian share markets slipped on Thursday on persistent concerns over growth in China and worries about the Federal Reserve’s plans to tighten policy quickly, confirmed in minutes of the early May rate-setting meeting released overnight.
While Wall Street closed higher after the minutes, which showed a majority of Fed policymakers backed half-percentage-point rate hikes in June and July along with a unanimous view the economy was strong, the mood was subdued in Asia.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.6%, taking losses for the month to 5%.
Australian shares were down 0.47%, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index slid 0.17%. In early European trading, the pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures were down 0.14%, as were German DAX futures.
“It’s very difficult for investors to navigate this market at the moment with high inflation, slower growth, rising interest rates and concerns about the Chinese [Covid-19] predicament, but also stagflation is looming as a potential issue at the same time,” said Ryan Felsman, a senior economist at fund manager CommSec.
The falls in Asia contrasted with a more upbeat mood on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.6%, the S&P 500 gained 0.95% and the Nasdaq Composite added 1.51%.
All participants at the Fed’s May 3-4 meeting supported a half-percentage-point rate increase — the first of that size in more than 20 years — and “most participants” judged that further hikes of that magnitude would “likely be appropriate” at the Fed’s policy meetings in June and July, according to minutes from the meeting
While some investors worry that overly aggressive interest rate hikes by the Fed could tip the economy into recession, Wednesday’s minutes seemed to suggest the Fed would pause its tightening streak to assess the effect on growth.
The immediate attention is on Thursday’s commerce department release of its second take on first-quarter GDP, which analysts expect to show a slightly shallower contraction than the 1.4% quarterly annualised drop originally reported.
“The Fed will be crossing their fingers for Q1 GDP to be upwardly revised today, because another print of -1.4% or worse could exacerbate concerns of stagflation,” Matt Simpson, senior market analyst at broker City Index, wrote.
Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea’s central bank raised interest rates for a second consecutive meeting as it grapples with consumer inflation at 13-year highs.
Chinese blue chips fell initially, but recovered as the day progressed after a drop in daily Covid-19 cases in the country, where lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the virus threaten to undermine recent economic support measures.
Mainland markets also seemed to seek relief in comments from premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday that China will strive to achieve reasonable economic growth in the second quarter and stem rising unemployment.
After rising on Wednesday following the Fed minutes, the dollar was little changed in Asia trade. It was barely changed against the yen at 127.30, while the euro was almost flat at $1.0675.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of major peers, was just 0.13% higher at 102.20.
Moves in US treasury yields were also muted. The 10-year yield edged up to 2.781% and the policy-sensitive two-year yield was flat at 2.502%.
Crude oil was steady after a cautious rally this week, with Brent crude flat at $114.03 a barrel and US crude up 0.13% at $110.47.
Spot gold was down 0.2% at $1,849.19/oz.
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