Morning bid: Powered up on Powell, yen still on the brink

By Thomson Reuters Mar 20, 2024 | 4:51 PM

By Jamie McGeever

(Reuters) – A look at the day ahead in Asian markets.

Asian markets open on Thursday in the slipstream of U.S. markets’ positive reaction to the Federal Reserve’s signal that interest rates will still be cut by 75 basis points this year, and not the 50 that many investors had been bracing for.

Wall Street’s three main indexes closed between 0.9% and 1.2% higher on Wednesday, Treasury yields fell and the dollar slipped, a mix that should point to early gains in Asia.

This comes against a global backdrop of high asset prices, strong risk appetite and low volatility – global stocks are near record levels, FX vol is the lowest since September 2021, and U.S. high yield bond spreads are the tightest in over two years.

Stacked up like that, however, maybe the upside is limited from here – the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index has shed around 2.5% in the past week.

While the 2024 path for U.S. monetary policy is the biggest immediate driver for Asian markets, the regional economic calendar on Thursday is not without potential fireworks.

Fourth-quarter GDP data from New Zealand, unemployment figures from Australia, trade numbers from Japan and a sprinkling of PMI reports are on tap too.

Once again, all eyes will be on the yen, which remains on the slide following the Bank of Japan’s historic rate hike and policy shift this week.

The Japanese currency is its weakest ever against the offshore Chinese yuan, its lowest against the onshore yuan in over 30 years, a 16-year high against the euro and a whisker away from lows not seen against the dollar since 1990.

The yen managed to claw back some of its losses late in U.S. trading on Wednesday as the dollar fell more broadly. Activity on Thursday promises to be frenetic as Asia takes its first opportunity to trade the Fed and BOJ.

Rates futures markets are currently pricing in a first Fed rate cut in June, and unsurprisingly in light of the Fed’s new projections, 75 bps of easing this year.

Traders forecast the BOJ raising another 10 bps rates in September and again in December. Nikkei newspaper reported on Wednesday that the next hike is more likely to come in October.

Elsewhere on Thursday New Zealand is expected to narrowly avoid recession with fourth quarter GDP seen rising 0.1%, following a surprise 0.3% contraction in the previous three-month period.

The kiwi dollar has been a relatively poor performer against the U.S. dollar this year as traders bet that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand will cut rates by more than 100 bps this year.

The first purchasing managers index (PMI) reports for March will also be released on Thursday in the shape of flash readings from Japan, Australia and India.

Here are key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Thursday:

– New Zealand GDP (Q4)

– Australia unemployment (February)

– Japan, Australia, India flash PMIs (March)

(By Jamie McGeever; Editing by Josie Kao)