Asian stocks sink despite attempt to track Wall Street gains, eyes on earnings

Agence France-Presse
asian stocks
A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks past an electronic board displaying closing numbers of share prices of Tokyo EStock Exchange in Tokyo on November 9, 2020, as Asian markets react to results of the US presidential election.
Behrouz MEHRI / AFP

HONG KONG, China — Asian markets fell Friday as traders struggled to build on Wall Street's positive lead, with hopes for a June interest rate cut fading, while earnings season gets underway in the United States amid optimism for companies' profit outlooks.

Tech titans helped drive gains in the Nasdaq and S&P 500 after producer price index data broadly met expectations, tempering worries about inflation following Wednesday's figures showing a third successive upside miss in consumer prices.

The CPI figures followed a series of indicators suggesting the world's number one economy remained resilient and the jobs market strong despite interest rates sitting at two-decade highs and inflation still well above the Federal Reserve's target.

That has seen investors trim their rate cut bets from six at the start of the year to two now, while former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers has even warned a hike could not be ruled out.

Central bank officials were reluctant to give their full backing to any reductions soon.

New York Fed chief John Williams said "tremendous progress" had been made in the battle against inflation but there was little need to move in the "very near term", while Richmond boss Thomas Barkin added that decision-makers could take their time.

Their Boston counterpart Susan Collins said the latest data "implies that less easing of policy this year than previously thought may be warranted".

While US traders pounced on the producer price numbers, Michael Shaoul at Marketfield Asset Management said: "Although we understand the relief with which this report will be received, there is nothing very encouraging contained within it -- and the best that can be said is that there was 'no new bad news' either."

Asian traders were also less impressed.

Hong Kong shed more than two percent, while Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Mumbai, Taipei and Wellington were all in the red. Tokyo was the outlier, ending slightly higher.

London jumped in the morning as data showed the UK economy grew for a second straight month in February, boosting hopes for a recovery after it fell into recession in the second half of 2023.

Paris and Frankfurt also rose.

Dimming hopes for rate cuts continued to support the dollar, which surged to another 34-year high above 153 yen, putting Japanese officials in the spotlight after they said they were ready to intervene in markets to support their currency.

Still, gold rose on the back of the PPI reading, pushing it to a new record of 2,395.48 with traders also seeking it out as a safe haven owing to ongoing concerns about the Middle East conflict.

Attention is now turning to the corporate reporting season, which gets underway in earnest later in the day with banking giants JPMorgan and Citibank among those to open their books.

Analysts said that while reducing interest rates would be a major boost for equities, investor optimism about company profits was crucial.

"The recent run of solid US economic data releases has helped build expectations for companies to report encouraging revenue figures and guidance," said National Australia Bank's Rodrigo Catril.

Key figures around 0810 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.2 percent at 39,523.55 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 2.2 percent at 16,721.69 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,019.47 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.9 percent at 7,997.14

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 153.22 yen from 153.25 yen on Thursday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0683 from $1.0730

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2518 from $1.2556

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.33 pence from 85.43 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.9 percent at $85.74 per barrel

Brent North Sea Crude: UP 0.7 percent at $90.36 per barrel

New York - Dow: FLAT at 38,459.08 (close)

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