Asian shares sag on revived US rate hike views, oil up

Japan’s Nikkei closes flat as yen weakens after GDP data; European markets poised to open lower

Japanese shares and the yen were volatile, with markets digesting surprisingly strong annualised 1.7 per cent growth in the January-March quarter that may be masking pockets of weakness. (Photograph:KAZUHIRO NOGIKAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

Japanese shares and the yen were volatile, with markets digesting surprisingly strong annualised 1.7 per cent growth in the January-March quarter that may be masking pockets of weakness. (Photograph:KAZUHIRO NOGIKAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Asian shares weakened on Wednesday in the wake of accelerating US inflation and comments from Federal Reserve officials that rekindled prospects of an interest rate rise as early as June.

Japanese shares and the yen were volatile, with markets digesting surprisingly strong annualised 1.7 per cent growth in the January-March quarter that may be masking pockets of weakness. European markets were seen opening lower, with financial spreadbetters expecting Britain’s FTSE 100 to open 0.3 per cent lower, France’s CAC to trade down 0.4 per cent and Germany’s DAX to start the day with a 0.6 per cent decline.

“Confused? Markets certainly are, up one minute and down the next as speculation about the U.S. economy continues to divide opinion, along with speculation about the number of possible rate rises the Fed might decide upon over the course of the remainder of this year,” Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in London, wrote in a note.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 1.1 per cent. After swinging between gains and losses, Japan’s Nikkei 225 ended the day flat, as the yen gave up gains seen immediately following the GDP data to slip 0.1 percent to 109.26 per dollar. “The yen strengthened a bit because growth was stronger than many had expected,” said Ayako Sera, market strategist at Sumitomo Trust and Banking. “But looking at the details, there were still some concerning areas, including capital spending.”

Markets are now looking to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with his coalition party leader, where he could discuss postponing a planned sales tax hike to support the flagging economy.

China’s CSI 300 slipped 1.1 per cent and the Shanghai Composite index lost 1.6 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng also slid 1.6 per cent. Wall Street sold off on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 losing 0.94 per cent, after US consumer prices recorded their biggest increase in more than three years in April as gasoline prices and rents rose.

Other data on Tuesday showed housing starts and industrial production rebounded strongly last month, adding to the case for an early rate hike. US interest rate futures posted large declines with the December 2016 contract falling the most in two-and-a-half months to price in a 70-80 percent chance of a rate hike by then, with a 50 per cent chance of a move priced in by September. The rate-sensitive two-year US Treasury notes yield, which touched a three-week high of 0.847 per cent earlier on Wednesday, was last trading at 0.835 per cent. A few Federal Reserve policymakers repeated their mantra that there could be at least two rate increases. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, seen as a policy centrist on the board, said on Tuesday that he still assumes there will be two to three rate hikes, a view echoed by San Francisco Fed President John Williams. Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, seen as a hawk, said he will push for an interest rate hike in June or July.

“Since the strong retail sales data last Friday, the Fed has clearly started a communication campaign to urge markets to price in a hike in June, even though markets have not gone there yet,” said Tomoaki Shishido, fixed income analyst at Nomura Securities. “They set (Fed Chair Janet) Yellen’s speech on June 6, just after the next payroll data and just before the blackout period will start before the next policy meeting. They wouldn’t have to do this if they have no plan to raise rates in June,” he added.

Expectations of further inflation are stoked by a recent recovery in oil prices, which hit seven-month highs on Tuesday, on expectations of a drawdown in US crude stockpiles and a new wildfire threat on Canadian oil supplies. US crude futures advanced 0.3 per cent to $48.45, after climbing as high as $48.76 per barrel late on Tuesday. International benchmark Brent crude climbed 0.2 per cent to $49.40, lingering near the 6-1/2-month high of $49.75 hit on Tuesday, and up more than 80 percent from a 12-year low of $27.10 struck in January.

The US dollar rose on the rising expectations of a Fed rate hike, but gains were capped as many market players looked to the Group of Seven finance chiefs meeting later this week. The dollar index, which tracks the currency against a basket of six major peers rose 0.2 per cent to 94.778. The euro slipped 0.3 per cent to $1.12845. The dollar’s gain weighed on spot gold, which dropped 0.5 per cent to $1,273.40 an ounce.

Reuters