Equities in retreat as Powell warns rate hikes still on table

Equities in retreat as Powell warns rate hikes still on table

Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell reminded investors that the door was still open for another interest rate hike
Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell reminded investors that the door was still open for another interest rate hike. Photo: Jim WATSON / AFP
Source: AFP

Asian stocks sank Friday and the dollar held gains after Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell warned he "will not hesitate" to hike interest rates further in his quest to bring inflation to heel.

His comments brought down the curtain on a rally across equities sparked last week when officials hinted that their long-running tightening cycle may be at an end.

They came as other key decision-makers have lined up to suggest that while recent data has suggested the hikes are kicking in, traders should be aware that more measures could be needed if prices remain elevated.

Speaking at an International Monetary Fund conference Thursday, Powell said "progress toward our two percent goal is not assured".

"If it becomes appropriate to tighten policy further, we will not hesitate to do so," he added.

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While policymakers were "committed" to achieving a sufficiently tight monetary policy stance, "we are not confident that we have achieved such a stance".

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He added that officials were aware of the need not to overtighten, which many fear could tip the world's top economy into recession.

The Fed decision last week to hold rates came as they acknowledged soaring Treasuries -- 10-year yields hit a 16-year high recently -- were acting as a substitute for rate hikes.

Hopes for an end to the rate-hiking fuelled a rally in Treasuries -- yields fall as prices rise -- and Saxo's Redmond Wong said Powell's comments were "an attempt to push back on the dovish repricing".

Other members of the policy board have hinted that more tightening could come, with governor Michelle Bowman saying some sectors continued to see strong inflation, while others wanted to see more data before making a decision.

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However, Richmond Fed chief Thomas Barkin said the full effects of more than a year of hikes had still not been felt. And his Atlanta counterpart Raphael Bostic thought "our policy is restrictive, and likely sufficiently restrictive, but I think we're going to still have bumps along the way".

All three main indexes on Wall Street ended in the red, with the S&P 500 falling after eight straight gains.

And Asia followed suit, with Hong Kong off more than one percent, while Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Jakarta, Wellington and Manila were also well down.

Still, JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief US economist Michael Feroli remained optimistic the hikes had come to an end.

"We still believe the Fed is done hiking for this cycle, but today's speech should serve as notice that their rhetoric must stay hawkish until they’ve seen further improvement in inflation," he said in a note.

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The dollar rallied against its key peers after the remarks, and it held those in Asia on Friday.

Traders were keeping a particular eye on the greenback's gains on the yen after it pushed back above the 151 level, with Japanese authorities saying they are ready to step in to support their unit if it weakens too far.

Key figures around 0230 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.6 percent at 32,450.03 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.6 percent at 17,224.47

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.6 percent at 3,035.56

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 151.23 yen from 151.35 yen n Thursday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0674 from $1.0671

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2227 from $1.2223

Euro/pound: UP at 87.29 pence from 87.28 pence

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.1 percent at $75.64 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.1 percent at $79.96 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.7 percent at 33,891.94 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.7 percent at 7,455.67 (close)

Source: AFP

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