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Picture: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA
Picture: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA

Asian shares made cautious gains on Thursday as investors scented a possible slowdown in the pace of US rate hikes, comforting bond markets and sending the dollar to a three-week low on the yen.

As expected, the US Federal Reserve raised rates 75 basis points (bps) to 2.25%-2.5% but did note some softening in recent data.

Fed chair Jerome Powell sounded suitably hawkish on curbing inflation in his news conference, but also dropped guidance on the size of the next rate rise and noted that “at some point” it would be appropriate to slow down. 

“The Fed no longer feel behind the curve and can now assess the appropriateness of policy ‘meeting by meeting’,” said Elliot Clarke, a senior economist at Westpac.

“This is not to say that the rate-hike cycle is complete or even that a pause is coming, but risks look as though they are transitioning from being skewed to the upside to the downside.”

The futures market still has 100 bps of further tightening priced in by year-end, but also implies about 50 bps of rate cuts over 2023.

Just the hint of a less aggressive Fed was enough to send MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up 0.5%.

Japan’s Nikkei added 0.3% and South Korea 0.9%. Chinese blue chips firmed 0.6%.

Eurostoxx 50 futures gained 0.6% and FTSE futures 0.2%.

Yet shares of several major US tech companies, including Meta Platforms, slid after hours as poor quarterly results and outlooks underscored recession fears.

That saw Nasdaq futures dip 0.4%, having enjoyed their biggest daily gain since April 2020 on Wednesday, while S&P 500 futures eased 0.2%.

Attention now switches to data on US GDP for the second quarter where another negative reading would meet the technical definition of a recession, though the US has its own method of deciding those.

Median forecasts are for growth of 0.5%, but the closely watched Atlanta Fed estimate of GDP is for a fall of 1.2%.

In bond markets, two-year treasury yields steadied at 2.990% after falling 6 bps in the wake of the Fed meeting.

Though the yield curve steepened slightly, most of it remained inverted in a sign investors believe policy tightening will lead to an economic downturn and lower inflation.

“While central banks are still on track to continue tightening this year, it is increasingly likely that the most rapid pace of rate hikes may be behind us,” said analysts at JPMorgan in a note.

“Falling commodity prices, notably excluding European natural gas, should offer some inflation relief, and the global economy outside of China is losing momentum.”

In currencies, the dollar index eased to 106.210 after losing 0.7% overnight as risk sentiment improved.

It also suffered a rare setback on the Japanese yen, falling 0.9% to 135.27 as some investors decided to book profits on a host of long positions.

The euro hovered around $1.0210, having bounced 0.9% overnight, but faces stiff resistance at $1.0278.

The single currency still has an energy crisis to contend with as the IMF warned that a complete cut-off of Russian gas to Europe by year-end may lead to virtually zero economic growth in 2023.

Russia has delivered less gas to Europe this week and warned of further cuts to come, boosting prices for gas and oil globally. A drop in crude inventories and a rebound in petrol demand in the US also supported prices.

US crude rose another $1.53 to $98.79 a barrel, having bounced 2.4% overnight, while Brent gained $1.40 to $108.02.

Spot gold was 0.2% firmer at $1,737/oz, having benefited from the dip in the dollar and bond yields. 

Reuters

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