Asian markets sink as traders consider Fed rate cut

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets were in retreat yesterday on dimming hopes for a deep interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve, but all the firms on a new tech-focussed board in China rallied on its opening day.

Oil prices extended last week’s gains after Iran seized a British tanker in the Persian Gulf, fuelling fresh concerns about supplies and a possible conflict in the tinderbox Middle East.

Traders took a step back after last week’s gains as the New York Federal Reserve tempered comments from its President John Williams, who had suggested the central bank would cut borrowing costs by 50 basis points at its policy meeting this month.

“Stocks are on the back foot as the market pares expectations for how deep the Fed will cut rates,” said Chief Market Analyst at Markets.com Neil Wilson.

“Expectations for a 50 (point) cut are diminished and the market is now looking to the European Central Bank this week to see how dovish they go.”

Stock investors chat in a brokerage house in Hangzhou in east China’s Zhejiang province. – AP

Bets that the Fed will only reduce rates by 25 points provided support to the dollar against most high-yielding, riskier currencies.

On equity markets, Tokyo ended 0.2 per cent lower and Hong Kong was off 1.4 per cent.

Shanghai fell 1.3 per cent, with liquidity hit as Chinese investors piled their cash into companies listed on the country’s new Nasdaq-style board.

Twenty-five stocks debuted on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s Sci-Tech Innovation Board – dubbed the STAR Market – in which listing and trading rules have been eased to help channel funding to start-ups.

Anji Microelectronics Technology (Shanghai) Co was one of the stand-out performers, soaring more than 500 per cent at one point before paring gains to end up 400 per cent.

There will be no limits on price movements for the first five days of trading, after which a daily 20 per cent band is imposed. China’s main exchanges are subject to a 10 per cent band to contain volatility.

Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Manila and Jakarta were also lower, though Wellington and Taipei edged up.

In early trade, London was flat, while Frankfurt and Paris both dipped 0.1 per cent.

There was some upbeat news for investors as China’s Xinhua news agency said importers had started an arrangement to buy US agricultural goods, a week after President Donald Trump warned he could impose more tariffs if Beijing did not move quickly enough on the trade talks.

Trump and Xi Jinping agreed last month at the G20 to resume talks, with the Chinese leader promising to buy more farming goods from the US.

“If we see China begin to follow through on their G20 sidelines promise, we could see the US follow up with some leniency on Huawei,” said Senior Market analyst at OANDA Edward Moya.

“Both sides don’t want to admit, but they are politically motivated to wrap up this trade deal this year.”

On oil markets, both main contracts rallied as tensions in the Gulf were raised by Iran’s seizure of the UK-flagged tanker last Friday.

Brent climbed two per cent and WTI was up 1.6 per cent.

The news provided support against a weak global economic outlook and concerns about demand.

“Falling global demand and rising US stockpiles have helped turn oil charts very bearish, but that may not last as tensions remain high in the Persian Gulf,” said Moya.

“If Iran keeps on seizing tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the risks (of a)… military conflict will grow.”