Most Asian markets retreat as Fed crushes March rate cut hope

Most Asian markets retreat as Fed crushes March rate cut hope

Federal Reserve officials were keen to begin cutting interest rates this year but boss Jerome Powell said a move next month was unlikely
Federal Reserve officials were keen to begin cutting interest rates this year but boss Jerome Powell said a move next month was unlikely. Photo: Julia Nikhinson / AFP
Source: AFP

Most Asian equities fell Thursday, tracking a sell-off on Wall Street after the Federal Reserve poured cold water on hopes for a March interest rate cut.

The downbeat sentiment was compounded by disappointing earnings from US titans Microsoft and Alphabet, which pummelled the tech sector, while investors were also eyeing developments in the Evergrande crisis after its liquidation order by a Hong Kong court this week.

After a much-anticipated meeting, Fed policymakers acknowledged that inflation was going in the right direction and expected to begin lowering borrowing costs this year from their two-decade highs.

However, they said the board was unlikely to start cutting "until it has gained greater confidence that inflation is moving sustainably" towards its two percent target.

Boss Jerome Powell said after the gathering that "almost everyone" favoured a step down this year, but added, "I don't think it's likely that the committee will reach a level of confidence by the time of the March meeting to identify March as the time to cut".

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Asian markets swing as traders eye Fed, jobs and earnings

Ahead of the announcement, market bets on a March cut were about 50-50, and observers said the comments were seen as less dovish than expected.

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PGIM Fixed Income's Greg Peters said that while inflation was well down from the four-decade highs seen in 2022, the Fed's work would likely get harder now that more market volatility could be expected.

"Given the underlying strength in the economy, and the ability for labour markets to seemingly shrug off higher interest rates, the Fed remains more focused on its inflation mandate than on the job market," said Tai Hui at JP Morgan Asset Management.

"It does appear that the balance of risks is skewed towards inflation remaining sticky rather than the economy falling into recession."

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US Fed rate decision could hold clues on timing of future cuts

After a broadly disappointing January for the region's markets, the news meant February got off to an inauspicious start with Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta all down.

Hong Kong rose after tanking more than three percent in the previous two days, while Seoul and Wellington were also up.

"Interest rates took the elevator going up -- but are going to take the stairs coming down," said Greg McBride of Bankrate.

"The Federal Reserve is getting closer to the first interest rate cut, but we're not there yet."

Christian Scherrmann at DWS expected the Fed to provide guidance on its plans at the March meeting and foresaw a reduction in the second quarter.

Investors are now awaiting the release of closely watched US jobs data on Friday, which will give a fresh idea about the state of the world's top economy. That comes after payroll firm ADP said the private sector created fewer posts than expected last month.

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Asian stocks mixed after Wall St record, eyes on Evergrande impact

Apple, Amazon and Facebook owner Meta are also due to report over the next couple of days.

Key figures around 0230 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.7 percent at 36,024.29 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 1.3 percent at 15,689.99

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 2,780.40

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 146.53 yen from 146.89 yen on Wednesday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2694 from $1.2685

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0818 from $1.0821

Euro/pound: DOWN at 0.8522 from 0.8525 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.8 percent at $76.45 per barrel

Brent North Sea Crude: UP 0.7 percent at $81.15 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.8 percent at 38,150.30 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,630.57 (close)

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Source: AFP

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