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Asian markets stutter as investors fret ahead of US releases

Traders are awaiting the release of US inflation data later in the day as well as the Federal Reserve's outlook for interest rates
Traders are awaiting the release of US inflation data later in the day as well as the Federal Reserve's outlook for interest rates - Copyright AFP Brendan Smialowski
Traders are awaiting the release of US inflation data later in the day as well as the Federal Reserve's outlook for interest rates - Copyright AFP Brendan Smialowski

Worries about upcoming US inflation data and the Federal Reserve’s outlook for interest rates permeated Asian trading floors Wednesday, while the euro continued to struggle owing to political uncertainty in Europe fuelled by shock EU election results.

While a surge in Apple helped Wall Street reach another record, investors are growing increasingly nervous that the US central bank will hold off on cutting borrowing costs for an extended period as officials determine if prices have been brought under control.

Forecasts for the number of reductions the Fed will make in 2024 have been whittled down from six at the start of the year to just three at best now, following a string of figures indicating the labour market remains solid and the economy still in rude health.

Confidence took another blow Friday when the closely-watched non-farm payrolls report came in far above expectations.

Focus is now on data due later Wednesday on last month’s consumer price index, which eased in April after three straight above-estimate readings.

That will be followed by the conclusion of the Fed’s latest policy meeting.

The bank is widely expected to stand pat on rates, but its so-called “dot plot” guidance, which shows officials’ outlook for rates this year, is the main event. The last report tipped three cuts but speculation is swirling that bank boss Jerome Powell and others could reduce it further.

Anthony Saglimbene at Ameriprise said: “We expect Fed Chair Powell and company to maintain a position that stresses potential rate cuts remain contingent on the committee seeing further progress made on bringing down price pressures.”

However, Dennis DeBusschere at financial services group 22V Research tipped the Fed to cut this year.

He said a study had found “63 percent of investors believe that the Fed will first cut because of a soft landing and that inflation is on a Fed-friendly path toward sub-three percent”.

“So, there will be a cut because policy doesn’t need to be as restrictive,” he added.

Equity traders in Asia trod a cautious line, brushing off a record for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq in New York.

Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore and Jakarta all fell, though Seoul, Wellington and Taipei rose.

There was little reaction to data showing Chinese consumer prices rose slightly less than expected last month.

The euro remained stuck around five-week lows against the dollar after French President Emmanuel Macron called shock snap elections in reaction to his centrist party’s rout by the far right in EU-wide polls.

The weekend’s result was echoed across the bloc, sparking worries about unity at a time when it faces huge economic and security risks.

Macron’s decision led ratings agency Moody’s to warn it could lower France’s credit score because it raises the risk of “political instability”.

The euro’s weakness mirrored a steep drop in European equities, with Paris losing more than one percent on each of the past two days.

– Key figures around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.8 percent at 38,826.33 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.2 percent at 17,959.07

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,023.68

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0740 from $1.0743 on Tuesday

Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.30 pence from 84.31 pence

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2742 from $1.2739

Dollar/yen: UP at 157.20 yen from 157.11 yen

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.6 percent at $78.33 per barrel

Brent North Sea Crude: UP 0.4 percent at $82.25 per barrel

New York – Dow Jones: DOWN 0.3 percent at 38,747.42 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 1.0 percent at 8,147.81 (close)

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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