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Asian shares down, dollar jumps on Yellen's rate hike signal

Asian shares down, dollar jumps on Yellen's rate hike signal
January 19, 2017
TOKYO - Asian shares slipped on Thursday and the dollar rebounded after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signalled that the US central bank is poised to pursue a path of interest rate hikes. The dollar had been grinding lower in recent sessions, and marked its weakest levels since early December after US President-elect Donald Trump expressed concerns about the effects of a stronger greenback in a weekend interview. Investors remained anxious ahead of Trump's inauguration on Friday, with many using the event as an excuse to lock in gains on their positions. In a speech on Wednesday to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, Yellen said that holding off too long to begin raising rates could "risk a nasty surprise down the road," and that it "makes sense" for the Fed to gradually lift rates. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slumped 0.4 percent. Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng index fell 0.6 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index was 0.1 percent lower. Short-term funding costs in China shot to their highest in nearly 10 years on fears that liquidity was tightening sharply heading into the long Lunar New Year holidays at the end of this month. "The market is typically short of liquidity ahead of the Lunar New Year," said Gu Weiyong, chief investment officer at bond-focused hedge fund Ucom Investment Co, adding that a cash injection by the central bank was insufficient. On Wall Street overnight, stronger financial shares helped push up the S&P 500, though the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down. Japan's Nikkei stock index was up 1 percent, lifted by the tailwind of the weaker yen. "The dollar clearly rose on Yellen's remarks," said Mitsuo Imaizumi, chief currency strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo. "But with tomorrow's inauguration of Trump ahead, Japanese investors still might take a cautious stance today." While traders expect the incoming U.S. administration to adopt stimulus policies to lift growth and inflation and keep the Fed on course for rate hikes, many investors worry about the potential fallout of Trump's protectionist policies. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major counterparts, rose 0.3 percent to 101.22. The dollar gave up early session gains against the yen and inched down to 114.48, but stayed well above the previous session's low of 112.57 yen. Sterling was 0.1 percent higher, at $1.2275, after it shed more than 1 percent on Wednesday. The pound had surged 3 percent on Tuesday after British Prime Minister Theresa May's speech reassured investors worried about a "hard Brexit".