HONG KONG (AFP): Asian stocks were mixed Wednesday following losses on Wall Street as forecast-beating US data jolted hopes the Federal Reserve could soon tone down its hawkish pace of interest rate hikes.
Hong Kong led gainers — extending the previous day’s surge — as traders remain hopeful China could begin rolling back its zero-Covid policy, the day after an unverified statement suggesting a shift was taking place.
Suggestions that the US central bank could take its foot off the pedal as the world’s top economy shows signs of slowing have helped fuel a rally across risk assets for more than a week.
But some of the wind was taken out of their sails on Tuesday after data showed a rise in job openings while other numbers released indicated the manufacturing sector did not perform as badly as expected last month.
The readings suggest the US economy continues to hold up despite recent signs of weakness in the face of decades-high inflation and numerous rate hikes that many observers warn will spark a recession.
They also come as the Fed concludes its latest policy meeting later in the day.
While it is widely tipped to unveil a fourth straight jumbo hike, the gathering was hotly anticipated by traders hoping for a hint from officials that they are ready to temper their speed of monetary tightening.
“Markets have been reacting to dovish expectations for Wednesday’s (policy meeting), which I have argued are wrong,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.
“Based on US economic data out Tuesday, there is no way for the Federal Reserve to turn dovish. The labour market is still strong, and manufacturing is still (slightly) expanding.”
He added: “Even if we see the Fed slow the pace of hikes, they are still hiking, the policy is still highly restrictive, front-end rates will still get worse before they get better.
“Sure, we could see a knee jerk higher on stocks via a lower Fed glide path, but will it be sustainable?”
Highlighting the tough jobs central banks face in the inflation fight, data out of South Korea on Wednesday and Britain on Tuesday indicated prices remain elevated, despite higher borrowing costs.
After the negative lead from Wall Street, Asia fluctuated.
Hong Kong — which closed early owing to a severe tropical storm — rallied more than two percent, extending Tuesday’s 5.2 percent surge following an unverified statement saying China was forming a committee to consider rolling back some zero-Covid measures.
The foreign ministry in Beijing said later Tuesday it was unaware of such a committee, while some commentators said authorities had actually boosted containment measures since a key Communist Party conference last month.
However, traders remain hopeful of some changes, despite President Xi Jinping reasserting his commitment to the policy at the Party Congress.
“If the speculation proves true, the pressure which the virus adds on the economy would ease, and market will have high expectations of economic recovery,” Zheng Xiaoxia, of Huaan Securities Co., said.
Shanghai was up more than one percent, while Sydney, Taipei and Manila rose.
Seoul was flat as traders brushed off news North Korea had fired at least 10 missiles, including one that the South’s military said landed close to its territorial waters.
Tokyo ended slightly down even as tech titan Sony racked up gains of seven percent a day after it lifted its annual net profit and sales forecasts thanks to the weak yen.
Mumbai, Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok and Wellington fell.
Oil prices jumped after a report said US stockpiles saw a huge drop last week, suggesting demand remains intact as worries about supplies continue to swirl.
While well down from their post-Ukraine-invasion peak, both main contracts have jumped in recent weeks after OPEC and other major producers said they would slash output.
The decision came after a drop in prices caused by global recession concerns, China’s lockdowns and the strong dollar, which makes the commodity expensive for buyers using other currencies.