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Singapore — Asian stocks hit a two-year low on Friday and were heading for a weekly loss, while the dollar was set for its third week of gains as a fresh slew of rate hikes around the world deepened concerns about the outlook for global economic growth.
Though wagers on a 100 basis point hike from the US Federal Reserve later this month eased off a little overnight as Fed officials hosed down that possibility, bond markets remain priced for steep hikes to slam the brakes on output.
China’s economy contracted sharply in the second quarter data released on Friday showed, while annual growth also slowed significantly, highlighting the colossal toll on activity from widespread Covid lockdowns, which jolted industrial production and consumer spending.
MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5% in early trade to a two-year low, dragged down by concerns about China’s property market where homeowner threats to cease mortgage payments have spooked markets.
China’s main share index was flat, while a Hong Kong-listed index of mainland property stocks fell more than 2%.
“In terms of the second half, initially we were quite positive, but it seems they have more issues that are emerging,” Woei Chen Ho, an economist at UOB in Singapore, said of China.
“They continue to face challenges of Covid-19 resurgence. The property market offers greater pessimism and potential for crisis if they don’t manage it properly.”
Overnight, Wall Street indices fell after weaker-than-expected earnings from JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley fanned fears of a sharp economic downturn.
Japan’s Nikkei edged 0.6% higher, with Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing and video game maker Nintendo leading gains. The US dollar stood near two-decade highs against the euro and yen, having forced the euro below $1 for the first time since 2002 this week.
The S&P 500 finished 0.3% lower but futures were up 0.35% in Asia after Federal Reserve governor Christopher Waller and St Louis Fed president James Bullard poured some cold water on talk of a 100 bps hikes later in July.
“Markets may have gotten ahead of themselves,” Waller said at a summit in Idaho. Bullard also told Japan’s Nikkei newspaper that a 75 bps hike “has a lot of virtue to it”.
Futures imply about a 30% chance of a 100 bps hike and see the benchmark US interest rate reaching about 3.6% by March next year before being cut back to 3% by late 2023.
This week the Bank of Canada surprised markets with a 100 bps hike, central banks in South Korea and New Zealand announced 50 bps hikes and in Singapore and the Philippines authorities tightened policy out-of-cycle to tamp down on inflation.
US retail sales data will also be a closely watched data point on Friday.
Weakness will further worry investors who think this week’s white-hot inflation figure and subsequent Thursday data showing a strong rise in producer prices point to an unleashing of steep rate rises on a softening economy.
Short-end US Treasuries held steady overnight, but the two-year yield, at 3.1217%, is about 17 basis points higher than the benchmark 10-year yield, an unusual inversion of the yield curve that often points to recession.
“That inversion, I think, has quite a long way to go because we haven’t really properly priced in that recession yet,” said ING economist Rob Carnell, who also warned equities were at risk as fast-rising producer costs point to margin squeezes.
In currency markets the US dollar is king. The euro fell as low as $0.9952 overnight and has slid 1.5% for the week. It last steadied at $1.0030. The yen is hurtling towards 140/$, and last bought 138.85.
“Not only has the greenback been supported by an almost continual ratcheting higher of Fed hawkishness over the past year, but the US dollar is picking up support from safe-haven flows,” said Jane Foley, senior currency strategist at Rabobank in London in a note to clients.
This reflects concerns that China will struggle to meet its growth targets this year at a time when the market is concerned about recession risks for Europe and the US.
Brent crude futures held at $99.42 a barrel and gold sat at $1,711/oz, just above a one-year low overnight.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.