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    Asian shares mostly lower despite Wall St rally; eyes on Fed

    Yuri Kageyama

    TOKYO (AP) – Asian shares were mostly lower yesterday as markets shrugged off a Wall Street rally and awaited congressional testimony by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

    Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 shed 0.2 per cent to 26,206.68. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.2 per cent to 6,508.40. South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.7 per cent to 2,367.78. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 1.1 per cent to 21,329.32, while the Shanghai Composite edged down 0.3 per cent to 3,296.22.

    Stocks have been mostly sliding in recent weeks as investors adjust to higher interest rates that the Federal Reserve and other central banks are increasingly doling out to temper record-high inflation. Investors are worried that the Fed risks slowing economic growth too much and bringing on a recession.

    The overnight rally on Wall Street “will be taken with a pinch of salt as elevated inflation and risks to growth persist”, Venkateswaran Lavanya at Mizuho Bank said.

    The Wall Street rally that started the holiday-shortened week came as investors look ahead to what Jerome Powell will tell Congress, the first of two days of testimony as part of the central bank’s semi-annual monetary policy report.

    “For now, the fundamental catalyst for a more sustained rebound seems fragile, with all eyes on Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s testimony ahead to further drive expectations of policy outlook and inflation,” market strategist at IG Yeap Jun Rong in Singapore, said in a commentary.

    The worries over inflation and interest rates have been worsened by a spike in energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The price of United States (US) crude oil rose one per cent to settle at USD110.65 per barrel on Tuesday. It’s up about 52 per cent for the year.

    A man wearing a protective mask looks at an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo yesterday. PHOTO: AP

    That has taken a bigger bite out of people’s wallets at the gas pump and is prompting a slowdown in spending elsewhere.

    Oil prices fell back yesterday, with benchmark US crude shedding USD3.82 to USD105.70 per barrel. Brent crude declined USD3.65 to USD111.00 per barrel.

    The lingering list of worries has made for an extremely turbulent market. Daily swings between gains and losses has been common and major indexes have sometimes shifted between sharp gains and losses on an hourly basis.

    US markets were closed on Monday for the observation of Juneteenth. Last week, the Fed hiked its key short-term interest rate by the most since 1994, the central bank’s latest effort to tame the worst inflation in 40 years.

    The S&P 500 rose 2.4 per cent to 3,764.79, recouping about 40 per cent of its losses last week. More than 85 per cent of the stocks in the benchmark index gained ground. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 2.1 per cent to 30,530.25 and the Nasdaq climbed 2.5 per cent to 11,069.30.

    Smaller company stocks also gained ground. The Russell 2000 rose 1.8 per cent to 1,694.03.

    “This is a little more of an oversold bounce that the market is looking at and trying to figure out what is the path the Federal Reserve is actually going to navigate,” said Senior Investment Strategist at US Bank Wealth Management Rob Haworth.

    Technology stocks had some of the strongest gains. Apple rose 3.3 per cent and Microsoft rose 2.5 per cent.

    Retailers, healthcare companies and banks also made solid gains. Kellogg rose two per cent after the maker of Frosted Flakes and Rice Krispies said it would split into three companies.

    Spirit Airlines jumped 7.9 per cent after JetBlue sweetened its buyout offer for the budget airline.

    “In these kinds of markets, you just get bigger volatility in both directions,” said Investment Strategist at Baird Ross Mayfield. “The entire market is being shaped by the Fed and inflation numbers.”

    Last week, the Fed hiked its key short-term interest rate by triple the usual amount. It has also just begun allowing some of the trillions of dollars of bonds it purchased through the pandemic to roll off its balance sheet. That should put upward pressure on longer-term interest rates and is another way central banks are yanking supports earlier propped underneath markets to bolster the economy.

    The Fed’s moves are happening as some discouraging signals have emerged about the economy, including sagging spending at retailers and soured consumer sentiment. The National Association of Realtors on Tuesday reported that sales of previously occupied US homes slowed for the fourth consecutive month. The housing market, a crucial part of the economy, is slowing as homebuyers face record high prices and sharply higher home financing costs than a year ago following a rapid rise in mortgage rates.

    The Fed could consider another such mega-hike at its next meeting in July, but Powell has said increases of three-quarters of a percentage point would not be common.

    In currency trading, the US dollar inched down to JPY136.20 from JPY136.64 yen. The euro cost USD1.0511, down from USD1.0537.

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