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Asian stocks whipsaw as dollar falls after Fed: markets wrap

Asian stocks whipsaw as dollar falls after Fed: markets wrap
Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, at a rates decision news conference in Frankfurt, Germany, on Thursday, 16 March 2023. (Photo: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg)

Asian stocks were mixed on Thursday after Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell played down the prospect for interest-rate cuts and as fresh turmoil in the US banking sector renewed fears of a credit squeeze.

Chinese shares whipsawed as they reopened a three-day break, while Hong Kong equities gained. Australian and South Korean shares fell. Futures contracts for the S&P 500 edged lower after the benchmark dropped on Wednesday following the Fed’s 25 basis-point rate hike and commentary that played down expectations for cuts later in the year.

Nasdaq 100 futures inched higher alongside a rally in Hong Kong technology stocks, indicating support for the sector after broadly positive first-quarter earnings.

Australian bonds rose following gains in US Treasuries. The yen extended a rally against most of its Group-of-10 peers, while the Bloomberg dollar index fell for a third day. Oil retraced some of the losses it made earlier this week when concerns over global growth weighed on the commodity.

US regional lender PacWest Bancorp slumped 60% in US postmarket trading on Wednesday, reigniting bank stability fears after people familiar said the Beverly Hills-based company had been weighing a range of strategic options, including a sale.

“The tightening in credit conditions will put some significant downward pressure on the economy,” Michelle Girard, head of US for NatWest Markets, said on Bloomberg Television. “You will see the Fed in a position to move policy to a less restrictive stance sooner than what the Fed chairman today was suggesting.”

The rate debate will resume again later on Thursday, with the European Central Bank taking centrestage. Policymakers are seen raising the deposit rate by a quarter-point to 3.25%, which would mark a slowdown in their hiking cycle. The decision is expected at 2:15 p.m. in Frankfurt, followed half an hour later by president Christine Lagarde speaking at a press conference.

“Potential Fed pause, but no Fed pivot yet,” said Jason Pride at Glenmede. “The Fed is telegraphing that additional monetary tightening may or may not occur, but rate cuts do not yet appear to be on the table. The Fed’s leadership is working hard to thread the needle between telegraphing too much tightening while also not agreeing with the market’s rate cut narrative.” BM/DM


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