Asian Stocks Slip As Rate Cut Hopes Begin To Fade

Stocks in Asia fall Wednesday after solid economic readings and higher commodities prices spurred speculation that major central banks will keep interest rates higher for longer.

Benchmarks in Australia, South Korea and Japan declined, while Hong Kong share futures traded flat. Contracts on US equities edged lower after the S&P 500 fell 0.7% and the Nasdaq 100 dropped 0.9% in Tuesday trading.

Pressure on US equities followed better-than-estimated data on US job openings and factory goods orders that added to skepticism about the pace of Federal Reserve easing. Traders now project fewer rate cuts in 2024 than the central bank itself.

Treasuries steadied during Asian trading after further selling pushed yields higher on Tuesday, when the 10-year yield touched the highest level since November. Australian and New Zealand yields also climbed in early Asian trading.

“Stock bulls may find it difficult justifying buying stocks at these elevated levels as yields rise,” said Fawad Razaqzada at City Index and “Rising crude oil prices pose additional risk to the inflation outlook. Additionally, numerous jobs reports are expected throughout the week. Trading could be volatile.”

An index of the dollar was little changed. The yen was also flat against the greenback at around 151 per dollar, remaining around the weakest level of the year — keeping alive the possibility of official intervention to the support the currency. Traders were also monitoring early reports of an earthquake in the region Wednesday.

Tatsuo Yamasaki, Japan’s former vice finance minister for international affairs, said the government “can step in as soon as the yen falls beyond the current range,” in an interview Tuesday.

The yuan, meanwhile, traded close to the weak end of its onshore trading band, the latest sign that a recent slew of upbeat economic data hasn’t been enough to bolster the Chinese currency.

Elsewhere, oil extended a rally after an industry report pointed to a drawdown in US crude inventories, ahead of an OPEC+ meeting at which the group is expected to affirm current supply cuts.

In Asia, data set for release includes composite PMIs for Japan and China, Hong Kong retail sales and New Zealand house prices.

Following hotter-than-estimated data in various corners of the world, the global version of Citigroup’s Economic Surprise Index — which measures the difference between actual releases and analyst expectations — is near the highest in a year. Over the past week, the two biggest economies — the US and China — showed strong manufacturing figures.

Federal Reserve

As traders awaited remarks from Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday, they weighed comments from two officials who vote on monetary policy decisions this year. San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly and her Cleveland counterpart Loretta Mester said they still expect the central bank to cut rates three times in 2024 — though they’re in no rush to begin lowering borrowing costs.

Swap traders are currently projecting about 65 basis points of rate reductions this year — less than the 75 basis points signalled in the Fed’s latest “dot plot” forecasts.

“Our base case is that the Fed engineers a soft landing and starts to cut rates in the second half of the year,” said Gargi Chaudhuri at BlackRock. “The downside risks to economic growth have diminished, so the risk of only two Fed rate cuts now appears higher than the risk of four cuts.”

Elsewhere, gold was steady to hold a rally over the past six sessions, while Bitcoin was little changed at around USD65,500. – Bloomberg

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