HONG KONG – Asian equities mostly fell Friday, pulling back from the previous day’s rally as traders consider central bank plans to combat soaring inflation by ending the era of ultra-cheap cash, while also navigating a Covid infection spike that threatens an already fragile economic recovery.
With prices rising at their fastest pace in four decades, the Fed this week set itself on a much more hawkish path to get them under control by pledging to end its vast bond-buying programme by March and indicating a series of interest rate hikes that could run through 2023.
The news on Wednesday was met with a rally across US and Asian markets as investors welcomed an end to the some of the uncertainty that had hung over markets for months, and a Fed plan to rein in inflation.
OANDA’s Craig Erlam said a gauge of possible rate hikes “was towards the hawkish end of expectations, something investors welcomed with open arms”.
“It’s not often those two things have been said together since the global financial crisis. In fact, it may be a first. The last time the Fed raised rates, it faced strong criticism from some, most notably President Trump.
“This time, it’s not the possibility of inflation, rather the prospect of it rising out of control that’s prompting the move and clearly, investors fear inflation far more than modest tightening. As they should.”
A Bank of England rate hike on Thursday and the European Central Bank’s plan to taper its own financial support — but extending other help — were met with similar upbeat responses in Europe.
However, Wall Street’s three main indexes retreated Thursday as investors took stock of the new policy, with tech firms — which are more susceptible to higher borrowing costs — taking the brunt of the selling, sending the Nasdaq down more than two percent.
And much of Asia followed.
Tokyo, Singapore, Wellington, Manila and Jakarta all dropped into the red. Sydney, Seoul and Taipei edged up.
“The cycle you are seeing here is really about a change in tone, a change in regime, the possibility of tighter policy next year, not just at the Fed, but globally,” Alicia Levine, of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, told Bloomberg Television.
Hong Kong and Shanghai were also well down, with selling amplified by a fresh US crackdown on China with sanctions and trade curbs over Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.
Lawmakers voted to make the United States the first country to ban virtually all imports from the northwestern region over concerns of the prevalence of forced labour, while also hitting companies linked to surveillance there.
Rights groups say China has been honing new technologies in artificial intelligence and DNA tracking to keep tabs on Uyghurs.
The volley is the latest in a standoff between the superpowers that has left relations at their coldest in decades, and will likely rile Beijing.
Key figures around 0250 GMT
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.9 percent at 28,799.60 (break)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.9 percent at 23,256.04
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.7 percent at 3,648.51
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.62 from 113.67 yen late Thursday
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1322 from $1.1330
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3322 from $1.3324
Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.95 pence from 85.04 pence
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.4 percent at $72.13 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.2 percent at $74.84 per barrel
New York – Dow: DOWN 0.1 percent at 35,897.64 (close)
London – FTSE 100: UP 1.3 percent at 7,260.61 (close)
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