Asian stocks, dollar retreat ahead of Fed meeting
HONG KONG–Asian markets slipped Wednesday after more weak US data raised questions about the health of the world’s top economy, while the dollar edged down as an early interest rate rise looks increasingly unlikely.
The euro continued to hold its own, with investors hopeful that Greece will be able to hammer out a bailout reform deal with creditors and avert a default.
Sydney plunged 1.85 percent, or 109.9 points, to 5,838.6, with big banks leading the decline as hopes of another interest rate cut waned. Seoul closed 0.23 percent lower, giving up 5.04 points to 2,142.63.
Hong Kong ended 0.15 percent lower, shedding 42.41 points to 28,400.34, but Shanghai recovered from early losses to close flat–edging up 0.41 points to 4,476.62.
Tokyo was closed for a public holiday.
With few major catalysts, regional investors are focusing on the Federal Reserve’s two-day meeting, which wraps up later in the day.
While the US central bank will not announce any policy move, its statement will be pored over for any guidance on interest rates.
On Tuesday the Conference Board reported its index of consumer confidence tumbled in March instead of rising as expected. Consumers reported growing pessimism about current and short-term US economic conditions.
A series of disappointing indicators has fueled speculation the US central bank will want to wait to increase rates, which have been pegged at zero since 2008. The Fed had signaled a possible rise as early as June, but analysts now expect it in September at the earliest.
Wednesday will also see the release of the government’s first estimate on first-quarter economic growth, with analysts forecasting 1 percent, down from a 2.2 percent pace in the previous three months.
However, on Wall Street Tuesday the Dow added 0.40 percent and the S&P 500 rose 0.28 percent. But the Nasdaq eased 0.10 percent.
Euro holds strength
The diminishing prospect of an early rate increase has weighed on the dollar, which fell to 118.88 yen in New York Tuesday from 119.10 yen earlier in the day in Tokyo. On Wednesday in Asia the greenback was at 118.82 yen.
The euro was at $1.0998 and $130.90 against $1.0981 and 130.55 yen in US trade. It was sharply up from $1.0880 and 129.54 yen in Tokyo Tuesday.
Even though talks between Greece’s government and its creditors are dragging on, there is hope for an agreement on the bailout that will unlock billions of euros, allowing Athens to avert a default and stay in the eurozone.
Investors cheered Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ decision to reshuffle his negotiating team, while he has also expressed confidence in a compromise.
According to press reports Greece’s hard-left, anti-austerity leadership could also be prepared to adopt some reforms previously rejected, including a reinforced tax collection system, taxing television adverts and ramping up levies on luxury goods.
Oil prices inched lower ahead of the release of the latest US supply report. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell 32 cents to $56.74 while Brent crude slipped 18 cents to $64.46.
Gold fetched $1,208.05 against $1,201.29 late Tuesday.
In other markets:
— Singapore fell 0.23 percent, or 7.94 points, to 3,487.15.
United Overseas Bank declined 2.16 percent to Sg$24.42 while investment holding firm Ezion slid 5.24 percent to Sg$1.17.
— Bangkok was down 0.59 percent, or 9.06 points, to 1,522.47.
Oil company PTT Exploration and Production lost 3.36 percent to 115 baht, while Siam Cement fell 2.19 percent to 536 baht.
— Kuala Lumpur slipped 0.65 percent, or 12.13 points, to 1,842.93.
AMMB Holdings gained 0.46 percent to 6.49 ringgit while Public Bank ended 0.51 percent lower at 19.70 ringgit. Telekom Malaysia fell 0.27 percent to 7.47 ringgit.
— Jakarta was down 2.34 percent, or 122.87 points, to 5,119.29.
Palm oil producer Astra Agro Lestari fell 1.85 percent to 19,925 rupiah while lender Bank Permata rose 1.25 percent to 1,620 rupiah.
— Taipei lost 1.03 percent, or 103.00 points, to end at 9,853.83.
Smartphone maker HTC shed 5.7 percent to Tw$124.0 while Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. was 1.98 percent lower at Tw$148hk.5.
— Wellington fell 0.50 percent, or 28.84 points, to 5,740.82.
Air New Zealand shed 1.09 percent to NZ$2.715 and Fletcher Building was down 0.36 percent at NZ$8.21.
— Manila lost 0.77 percent, or 61.10 points, to 7,825.47.
Shopping mall operator SM Prime Holdings fell 1.44 percent to 19.12 pesos, Metrobank was down 1.85 percent at 93 pesos and Banco de Oro sank 2.23 percent to 109.50 pesos.
— Mumbai declined 0.62 percent, or 170.45 points, to 27,225.93.
Telecom major Bharti Airtel shed 3.32 percent to 387.50 rupees while Axis Bank rose 3.30 percent to 552.90 rupees.
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