Sunday, March 3, 2024
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Asian markets drop on Fed rate fears as US inflation rages

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets sank yesterday after a sell-off on Wall Street in response to a forecast-busting jump in US inflation that fanned expectations the Federal Reserve will embark on a more aggressive campaign of monetary tightening.

The 7.5 per cent jump in prices last month was the fastest in 40 years and reinforced fears that the central bank is falling behind the curve in keeping it under control, which has fed a sense of uncertainty across trading floors.

United States (US) stocks immediately sank on the news but managed to claw their way back as the day progressed before being hit by Fed official James Bullard, who said he wanted to see interest rates lifted one percentage point by the start of July.

The St Louis Fed boss said he was in favour of a 50 basis point lift next month – double the usual rise and the first since 2000 – and two more after that.

“I’d like to see 100 basis points in the bag by July 1,” Bullard, who has a vote on policy this year, told Bloomberg News. “I was already more hawkish but I have pulled up dramatically what I think the committee should do.”

He added: “I do not think it is shock and awe.

“I think it is a sensible response to a surprise inflationary shock that we got during 2021 that we did not expect.”

Bullard also said he was open to a very rare announcement of rate hikes between meetings, which further rattled traders who fretted about a move before March, while calling for the quick reduction of the bank’s bond holdings that have helped keep rates subdued.

Meanwhile, US Treasuries – a guide to future borrowing costs – have risen above two per cent and analysts are predicting up to seven rate hikes this year.

“What began as ‘just another ripper inflation print’ quickly turned into panic of an emergency hike from the Fed,” said Matt Simpson of StoneX Financial.

“As exciting as that is, we think an inter-meeting hike is an outside chance. But that is no reason for traders to not prepare for it, as it is these lower probability events which can spark the biggest moves.”

Markets have for months been hit by speculation about the Fed’s plans for monetary policy, having made an about-turn at the end of the year on its view that inflation would be temporary and subside as the global economy reopened.