Asian markets off to a slow start in central-bank packed week


Asian shares started cautiously on Monday in a week packed with central bank meetings that include the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan, which will be closely scrutinised for the global interest rate outlook.

Both S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq futures rose 0.2 per cent in early Asia.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (.MIAPJ0000PUS) slipped 0.1 per cent after gaining 1.2 per cent last week. Japan’s Nikkei (.N225) is closed for a holiday.

Sentiment in Asia improved recently after news of more policy support from Beijing and better-than-expected Chinese data add to signs the slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy could have past its worst.

However, the stress in the property sector persisted, with the fear that it is spreading to the financial system. Troubled Chinese trust firm Zhongrong International Trust Co said it was unable to make payments on some trust products on time.

This week, global central banks will take centre stage, with five of those overseeing the 10 most heavily traded currencies – including the US Federal Reserve – holding rate-setting meetings, plus a swathe of emerging market ones as well.

Markets are fully priced for a pause from the Fed on Wednesday, so the focus will be on the updated economic and rates projections, as well as what Chair Jerome Powell says about the future. They see about 80 basis points of cuts next year.

“In theory, the FOMC meeting should be a low-volatility affair, but it is a risk that needs to be managed,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone.

“We should see the median projection for the 2023 fed funds rate remaining at 5.6 per cent, offering the bank the flexibility to hike again in November, should the data warrant it.”

Weston added that if the Fed revises up the rate projections for 2024, that would see rate cuts being priced out, resulting in renewed interests in the US dollar and downward pressure on shares.

On Thursday, Bank of England is tipped to hike for the 15th time and take benchmark borrowing costs to 5.5 per cent, while Sweden’s Riksbank is seen hiking by 25 basis points to 4 per cent.

Bank of Japan is the key risk event on Friday. Markets are looking for any signs that the BOJ could be moving away from its ultra-loose policy faster than previously thought, after recent comments by Governor Kazuo Ueda sent yields much higher.

Last Friday, Wall Street ended sharply lower as US industrial labour action weighed on auto shares and chipmakers dropped on concerns about weak consumer demand. Rising Treasury yields also pressured Amazon (AMZN.O) and other megacap growth companies.

Cash Treasuries were not traded in Asia with Tokyo shut. Treasury yields edged higher on Friday, with the two-year above the 5 per cent threshold, as futures price in higher rates for longer ahead of a the Fed’s policy meeting this week.

In the currency markets, the US dollar was still standing strong near its six month top at 105.23 against a basket of major currencies.

The euro recovered 0.1 per cent to $1.0068 in early Asia trade, after slumping to a 3-1/2 month low of $1.0629 last week as the European Central Bank signalled its rate hikes could be over.

Oil prices were higher on Monday, after hitting 10 month tops last Friday, stoking inflationary pressures. Brent crude futures rose 0.1 per cent at $94.01 per barrel and US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 0.2 per cent at $90.97.

The gold price was flat at $1,923.33 per ounce.

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