Morning Bid: Powell dashes easing hopes, markets dented again

By Thomson Reuters Apr 16, 2024 | 4:47 PM

By Jamie McGeever

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

Investors in Asia hoping for some relief from surging U.S. bond yields and a rampant dollar would have been deflated by remarks on Tuesday from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, and will likely go into Wednesday’s trading with their guard up.

“The recent data have clearly not given us greater confidence and instead indicate that it’s likely to take longer than expected to achieve that confidence,” Powell said in Washington, a signal to the world that inflation is not coming down towards the central bank’s 2% target as quickly as expected and so interest rates will have to stay higher for longer.

‘Higher for longer’ would also seem to apply to the U.S. dollar, Treasury bond yields and financial conditions indexes – a sub-optimal mix for Asian assets, which are already feeling the heat.

Chinese stocks on Tuesday fell 1%, Japanese and aggregate Asia ex-Japan equity benchmarks tumbled 2%, and currencies across the continent are sliding in a move exacerbated by the yen’s spiral down towards 155.00 per dollar.

As yet there has been no action from Tokyo on the yen, to the probable irritation of policymakers across Asia. The dollar’s strength will surely crop up in discussions between finance ministers and central bankers attending the IMF and World Bank Spring meetings.

The IMF on Tuesday revised its U.S. growth outlook sharply higher, and said China’s stronger-than-expected first-quarter growth may prompt an upward revision to the outlook.

In theory, these are positive developments for markets in Asia. And Wall Street’s resistance on Tuesday in the face of yet another spike up in Treasury yields could still inject some optimism into Asian trading on Wednesday.

But that could be tempered by Middle East tensions and patchy Q1 U.S. earnings.

The MSCI Asia ex-Japan index is at a two-month low, having declined 4% in the last four days. Time for a pause, or is selling momentum gathering a powerful head of steam?

The same question could definitely be asked about the Japanese yen, which is printing fresh 34-year lows on a near-daily basis.

The latest Japanese trade data and Reuters ‘tankan’ survey of manufacturing and non-manufacturing business sentiment will be released on Wednesday, but probably won’t move the yen much.

In terms of domestic factors that could impact the yen, apart from direct intervention, investors will be looking to inflation figures and comments from Bank of Japan governor Kazuo Ueda in Washington later in the week.

Perhaps the highlight in a thin Asian and Pacific economic calendar on Wednesday is New Zealand inflation.

A Reuters poll shows annual inflation in the first quarter is expected to slow to 4% from 4.7% in the final three months of last year. That would be the lowest since Q2, 2021.

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

– IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington

– Japan trade (March)

– New Zealand inflation (Q1)

(By Jamie McGeever)