Markets swing as traders mull dark outlook

HONG KONG (AFP/ APP): Asian markets fluctuated Wednesday, with little sign of any relief from recent dour performances as investors remain fearful about the economic outlook owing to the impact of inflation, higher interest rates, China’s slowdown and the Ukraine war.
A series of weak indicators around the world and downbeat forecasts from big firms have chilled trading floors in recent weeks as the surge in prices begins to drag on consumer confidence, with warnings now swirling of a possible global recession.
The tech sector was again in the firing line after Snap, the parent of social media app Snapchat, provided a gloomy economic outlook, sending its shares diving more than 40 percent.
Wall Street titans followed Snap down, with Facebook-parent Meta and Google-parent Alphabet tanking.
Tokyo, Hong Kong and Jakarta were down while Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei and Manila rose.
The mood was not helped by news that US new home sales tanked in April while the Richmond Fed manufacturing index also fell, with both at the lowest levels since the pandemic began in 2020.
“The market is moving its focus — and has been for the last month or so — from inflation concerns to growth concerns,” said Ellen Hazen, of FL Putnam.
Investors are now wearily looking to the Fed’s next move on interest rates, with expectations for more half-point hikes to come as officials struggle to bring inflation down from four-decade highs.
There was a little hope after one policymaker, Atlanta Fed chief Raphael Bostic, suggested a break in the increases in September could make sense as the bank tries to avert a recession.
National Australia Bank’s Tapas Strickland said while it was not clear that the Fed was close to being more supportive of markets, “it is clear that growth headwinds are becoming more evident in the data, particularly stemming from the profit reporting season”.
“The Fed of course remains focused on inflation, but if inflation reads were to start to moderate, then Bostic has opened up the possibility of a Fed pause.”
Meanwhile, China continues to struggle with the fast-spreading Omicron variant, with leaders sticking to their zero-Covid strategy despite the dire impact on the economy of lockdowns.
And with no easing of that policy in sight, observers warned that a series of recent support measures would not be enough to lift optimism.
“Fiscal multipliers will be minimal in an economy where economic interaction and activity have slowed sharply,” said Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management.
“Moving beyond mobility restrictions in short order is a pre-condition, but not a guarantee, for an Asia-led economic recovery.”