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Hong Kong rally leads Asian markets, traders assess Fed rate plans

Oil prices have risen on further Middle East tensions after strikes hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, with Tehran blaming Israel
Oil prices have risen on further Middle East tensions after strikes hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, with Tehran blaming Israel - Copyright AFP LOUAI BESHARA
Oil prices have risen on further Middle East tensions after strikes hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, with Tehran blaming Israel - Copyright AFP LOUAI BESHARA

Hong Kong led most Asian markets higher Tuesday as traders returned from an extended weekend break to forecast-beating Chinese factory data that lifted hopes for the world’s number-two economy.

However, a stronger-than-expected reading on US manufacturing and prices paid kept sentiment in check and sparked questions about the Federal Reserve’s timeline for cutting interest rates.

Focus is now turning to the release of US jobs figures at the end of the week, which could have a bearing on the central bank’s decision-making in light of a recent batch of above-par inflation readings.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was the standout, piling on more than two percent on the first day of trading since Thursday as investors cheered data showing China’s manufacturing grew more than forecast last month.

The news suggested the economy may have turned a corner after struggling for more than a year since the lifting of zero-Covid measures, though observers are still hoping for more stimulus measures and support for the troubled property sector.

Chinese consumer tech giant Xiaomi led gains in Hong Kong, soaring as much as 15 percent on news that orders for its first electric vehicle — launched in Beijing on Thursday — had topped estimates.

The firm got close to 90,000 orders for the SU7 within 24 hours of the launch, Bloomberg News reported, adding that some had predicted it could become as popular as Tesla’s Model 3 EV.

Most other regional markets were on the front foot.

Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei and Manila were in positive territory. Shanghai was slightly lower with Wellington and Jakarta.

Wall Street’s three main indexes ended Monday mixed after the Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of factory activity showed expansion for the first time in March, after 16 straight months of contraction.

But more concerning for investors were figures showing that prices paid hit their highest mark since July 2022, which fanned worries that inflation could start to creep back up and complicate the Fed’s plans to cut rates.

Markets are now pricing in about 65 basis points of cuts this year, lower than the Fed’s guidance of 75 points. 

US Treasury yields jumped the data, putting upward pressure on the dollar.

The news came after the closely watched personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index ticked up, which Fed chief Jerome Powell said was “pretty much in line with our expectations”.

Jose Torres at Interactive Brokers said: “Investors are indeed front-running the possibility of yet another hawkish pivot from the Fed.

“The Fed’s first rate cut may arrive in the second half of the year after all — with probabilities of a reduction this June inching closer to coin-flip odds.”

Gold was hovering around $2,250, having edged back from a record $2,265.73 on Monday that was sparked by central bank hints at an easing of credit conditions. Demand for the safe haven has also been driven by geopolitical tensions, particularly in Europe and the Middle East.

Oil prices extended Monday’s gains, fuelled by worries over supplies and Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Claims that Israeli air strikes destroyed the Iranian embassy’s consular annex in Damascus — killing seven members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard including a top commander — sparked fresh fears. 

Israel said it would not comment, but Iranian officials vowed a stiff response, with fears of even further violence between Israel and Iran’s allies.

“Oil prices are edging close to five-month highs as geopolitical tensions remain rampant and supply threat is now a key focus as Iran (starts) to get involved in the Mideast crisis,” said Saxo’s Redmond Wong.

He added that plans by Mexico to halt some exports were also playing on investors’ fears, while an OPEC meeting this week will be closely followed. 

– Key figures around 0300

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 39,853.20 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 2.4 percent at 16,938.28

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,074.36

Dollar/yen: UP at 151.71 yen from 151.65 yen on Monday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0733 from $1.0746 

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2543 from $1.2548

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.57 pence from 85.61 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.4 percent at $84.01 per barrel

Brent North Sea Crude: UP 0.3 percent at $87.69 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.6 percent at 39,566.85 (close) 

London – FTSE 100: Closed for a holiday

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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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