Asian markets mixed on Fed taper news, economic outlook

by Jonathan Adams
Asian markets

Tokyo closed slightly down, Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei and Manila also dropped but Sydney, Singapore, Wellington and Jakarta all gained

Markets in Asia were mixed in early trade Thursday after minutes showed some Federal Reserve officials contemplating a wind-down of its vast monetary easing measures, while optimism remained buoyed by the outlook for the economic recovery.

Bitcoin stabilised somewhat after Wednesday’s wobbling that saw it tumble nearly a third in one day before recovering most of its losses.

Global equities have surged after hitting their pandemic lows in March last year supported by central bank packages and government spending measures, with recent gains also helped by the rollout of vaccines and easing of lockdown measures.

But investors have for months grown increasingly worried that the bounceback expected in the world economy will spark inflation as the stimulus mixes with cashed-up consumers who have been unable to spend finally being able to do so.

And data suggests those fears are real as recent inflation readings in several countries beat forecasts, with supply shortages and a low base effect from last year compounded by companies hiking wages to attract workers.

The Fed has repeatedly insisted that it sees the upward pressures as transitory and that prices will stabilise next year, adding that it will maintain its ultra-easy policies and record low interest rates until unemployment has been tamed and inflation is running consistently hot.

However, with the economy well on the recovery track, minutes from its April meeting released Wednesday indicated some Fed board members consider the time may soon come to at least begin discussing the bank’s position.

A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases, the minutes said.

Analysts pointed out that the meeting came before figures showed US inflation rocketed more than estimated in April, meaning the worries of hawkish board members may have since been heightened.

First they taper, then everyone starts the countdown until the rise with interest rates, said OANDA’s Edward Moya. Treasury yields climbed higher as the Fed’s minutes show hawks are starting to emerge as the outlook for asset purchases is no longer unanimous.

Now it is various participants that think it will be some time before further progress is made with their goals, he said.

Still, US markets finished lower but well off their earlier lows as investors took comfort that the change in policy would not likely be immediate.

And Asia fluctuated. Tokyo closed the morning slightly down, while Hong Kong fell as it returned from a midweek holiday.

Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei and Manila also dropped but there were gains in Sydney, Singapore, Wellington and Jakarta.

It was a surprise to hear the talk about Fed tapering, Joyce Chang, of JP Morgan Global Research, told Bloomberg TV.

She said the market had been thinking there might be a couple of months before you really saw this particular issue come into focus. Still, the outlook remained upbeat for the global economy as it emerges from last year’s crisis.

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