Most Asian markets rise as traders jockey ahead of US inflation

Most Asian markets rise as traders jockey ahead of US inflation

Investors are nervously awaiting the release of crucial US March consumer prices data after beating forecasts in the first two months of the year
Investors are nervously awaiting the release of crucial US March consumer prices data after beating forecasts in the first two months of the year. Photo: Michael M. Santiago / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP
Source: AFP

Equities mostly rose in Asia on Wednesday following a tepid day on Wall Street, with investors lasering in on the release of crucial US inflation data that could have a huge bearing on the outlook for interest rates.

While markets reacted positively to last week's blockbuster jobs report, which pointed to a still-strong economy, there is a nervousness on trading floors that a third successive miss to the upside on consumer prices could force the Federal Reserve to delay cutting borrowing costs.

The consumer price index "is the critical number this week", said NatAlliance Securities' Andrew Brenner. "The fear is that CPI has continued to be a thorn in the side of the Fed."

He added that "positioning is strongly bearish".

Investor expectations on rate cuts this year have been pared from six at the start of the year to three at most, with some even contemplating zero, though some suggested that no rate cuts could be the price to pay for economic health and strong earnings.

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Atlanta Fed boss Raphael Bostic sounded a pragmatic note Tuesday when asked about the bank's plans.

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He repeated his view that it would make one reduction this year but said he was open to changing his mind as the data came in.

After being asked about the chances of standing pat all year, he said: "I do think the risks are balanced and given that the US economy has been so robust and so strong and so resilient -- I can't take off the possibility that the rate cuts may even have to move further out."

But he also said that "if I started to get different signals to suggest that there's a lot of coming pain in the labour market side, then I'd be open to changing our policy stance and perhaps cutting sooner."

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Still, Krishna Guha at Evercore remained upbeat ahead of the CPI reading, adding that "the odds are the data will come in good enough to go ahead".

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq eked out small gains, but the Dow was marginally lower.

In early Asian trade, Hong Kong piled on more than one percent, while Sydney, Taipei and Wellington were also in the green, though Shanghai edged lower.

Tokyo was also down as a stronger yen weighed on exporters. The currency picked up against the dollar following less-than-dovish comments from Bank of Japan boss Kazuo Ueda.

The exchange rate has been closely tracked as the yen weakened towards 152 per dollar this week, which many observers consider the trigger for authorities to step in to support the Japanese currency.

The central bank last month lifted interest rates for the first time since 2007 as inflation continues to hold well above officials' target, and speculation is growing about when it will move again.

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Ueda told lawmakers Tuesday: "We have to consider reducing the degree of monetary easing if the underlying price trend rises along with our outlook.

"We will carefully consider this at every policy meeting as it depends on incoming data."

Key figures around 0230 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3 percent at 39,666.24 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 1.3 percent at 17,045.88

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,044.78

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 151.72 yen from 151.76 yen on Tuesday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0856 from $1.0860

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2676 from $1.2678

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.63 pence from 85.64 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 percent at $85.30 per barrel

Brent North Sea Crude: UP 0.1 percent at $89.49 per barrel

New York - Dow: FLAT at 38,883.67 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,934.79 (close)

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this story --

Source: AFP

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