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A visitor takes photos of an electronic screen displaying Japan's Nikkei share average in Tokyo, Japan, February 22 2024. Picture: ISSEI KATO/REUTERS
A visitor takes photos of an electronic screen displaying Japan's Nikkei share average in Tokyo, Japan, February 22 2024. Picture: ISSEI KATO/REUTERS

Sydney — Asian share markets sputtered on Monday while the dollar looked vulnerable ahead of a reading on US inflation that could hasten, or delay, the start of global rate cuts.

The yen edged higher as Reuters reported a growing number of Bank of Japan (BOJ) policymakers are warming to the idea of ending negative rates in March on the expectation of hefty pay hikes in the 2024 annual wage negotiations.

Data released on Monday showed Japan was not, in fact, in recession after economic growth was revised up to an annualised 0.4% for the December quarter.

Tuesday’s US consumer price index (CPI) report for February is forecast to rise 0.4% for the month and keep the annual pace steady at 3.1%. Core inflation is seen rising 0.3%, which will nudge the annual pace down to the lowest since early 2021 at 3.7%.

The slower core would complement the softer conditions seen in the February payrolls report, where unemployment hit a two-year high of 3.9%, and would keep the Federal Reserve on track to cut rates in the next few months.

“We continue to expect four 25 basis point [bp] cuts in the Fed funds rate this year, starting in June,” analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a note. “However, the soft employment report increases the odds that the FOMC [Federal open market committee] begins the easing cycle in May instead.”

“We expect that developed market central banks will lower policy rates by 128bps on average over the next 12 months,” they said. “We also expect that emerging market central banks will cut rates by 190bps on average.”

Futures imply about a 30% chance of a Fed cut in May and 70% for a first move in June.

Chinese price data out at the weekend showed a welcome bounce in inflation to 0.7% in February, though producer prices remained mired in deflation.

Beijing also promised to improve home sales in a “forceful” and “orderly” way to support the country’s beleaguered residential property market, but was short on details.

Hopes for lower borrowing costs have been a fillip for equities with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan easing 0.1%, after hitting an eight-month peak on Friday.

Japan’s Nikkei retreated 2.3%, having scored a succession of all-time highs last week. Chinese blue chips added 0.2%, but without much conviction.

BOJ turning positive

S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq futures were a fraction lower, having both run into profit taking on Friday as artificial intelligence diva Nvidia shed 5.6%.

Eurostoxx 50 futures fell 0.4%, and FTSE futures dipped 0.2%.

Treasury bonds continued their rally after the benign jobs report with 10-year yields touching a one-month low of 4.038% and last trading at 4.060%.

The drop in yields has undermined the dollar, especially against the yen given market speculation that the BOJ will end its negative rate policy (NIRP) and yield curve control (YCC) this month.

“We expect [yen] strength tactically on short-covering in the build-up to the March 18-19 BOJ meeting, one we think is live for a change in YCC and NIRP, and recent higher inflation readings only add to our conviction to be tactically long [yen],” said Paul Robson, head of G10 FX strategy at NatWest Markets.

“We’ve turned tactically bearish the [dollar] and initiated short positions versus both [the euro] and [the yen],” he added. “Our short-term fair value model suggests [euro/dollar] is too low based on bond spreads and relative curve steepness.”

The dollar was off at ¥146.82, having shed 2% last week to a five-week low of ¥146.48.

The euro was holding firm at $1.0939, after bouncing 0.9% last week to as high as $1.0980.

The decline in the dollar and bond yields has been supportive of non-yielding gold which was up at $2,180/oz, having surged 4.5% last week to record peaks.

Oil prices have had a tougher time as worries about China’s demand offset supply cuts by producer group Opec+.

Brent dipped 54c to $81.54 a barrel, while US crude lost 57c to $77.44 a barrel.

Reuters

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