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Asian shares ease as early rate cut bets fizzle, focus on Fed minutes

2024 02 21T022825Z 1 LYNXNPEK1K01T RTROPTP 4 GLOBAL MARKETS scaled - Global Banking | Finance

Asian shares ease as early rate cut bets fizzle, focus on Fed minutes

By Ankur Banerjee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stocks eased on Wednesday as diminishing expectations of early interest rate cuts from the Federal Reserve sapped risk appetite, with investors looking to the minutes of the U.S. central bank’s last meeting for clues on the policy outlook.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.09% lower on Wednesday. Japan’s Nikkei eased 0.21%, having stuttered in the last few days within sight of the all-time high set in 1989.

China stocks were mixed in early trading, a day after the biggest ever reduction in the nation’s benchmark mortgage rate as authorities stepped up efforts to prop up the struggling property market.

On Wednesday, the blue-chip CSI300 index fell 0.6%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was 1% higher.

China’s stock exchanges on Tuesday said major quant fund Lingjun Investment had broken rules on orderly trading and barred it from buying and selling for three days, as part of wider regulatory measures to revive market confidence.

While analysts welcomed the big mortgage rate cut they said more steps are needed to help turn sentiment around.

“I think we should be used to the PBoC’s step-by-step behaviour by now,” Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Natixis told the Reuters Global Markets Forum.

“So everything comes later than expected and in bits and pieces.”

Overnight, U.S. stocks ended lower, with the Nasdaq showing the largest declines as chipmaker Nvidia stumbled ahead of its highly awaited earnings report later on Wednesday. [.N]

On the monetary policy front, traders will get a chance to assess minutes of the Federal Reserve’s last meeting later in the day for any further clues on when the U.S. central bank will start its easing cycle.

Data last week showed sticky U.S. inflation, prompting investors to push back expectations of an early start to the rate-cut cycle. Markets are now pricing in June as the starting point for easing, compared with March at the start of the year.

A slim majority of economists polled by Reuters expects the Fed to cut interest rates in June.

Markets now expects 92 basis points of cuts from the Fed this year, closer to Fed’s own projection of 75 bps of easing and sharply below the 150 bps of cuts priced in by traders at the start of the year.

The changing rates outlook has buoyed the dollar this year and kept the yen, which is extremely sensitive to U.S. rates, near three-months low.

The yen weakened 0.03% to 150.05 per dollar, anchored to the key 150 level for the past few days, keeping traders on the watch for intervention from Japanese officials.

Japan’s exports rose more than expected in January, helping ease some concerns about demand and output after data last week showed the economy unexpectedly tipped into recession in the fourth quarter.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index advanced 0.038% to 104.08, not far from the three-month high of 104.97 it touched last week.

In commodities, U.S. crude rose 0.17% to $77.17 per barrel and Brent was at $82.50, up 0.19% on the day. [O/R]

Iron ore futures were rooted to their lowest level in over three months, weighed down by mounting concerns over the demand outlook in top consumer China.

Spot gold added 0.1% to $2,024.91 an ounce. [GOL/]


(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee; Additional reporting by Anisha Sircar; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)


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