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Stocks drop as markets wary of Fed, geopolitical tensions

Stocks drop as markets wary of Fed, geopolitical tensions
March 6, 2017
TOKYO - US stock futures dropped and Asian shares were on the defensive on Monday as investors weighed the near-certain prospect of an interest rate hike in the United States this month against news of slower growth in China this year. Risk appetite also took a hit on rising geopolitical tensions in East Asia, as North Korea fired four ballistic missiles early in the day, while a spat between China and South Korea over missile defence deepened. US stock futures dipped 0.4 percent, a fairly large move for Asian trade. Japan's Nikkei dropped 0.5 percent. MSCI's broadest dollar-denominated index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent but Seoul shares were down 0.2 percent, hitting their lowest levels since early February at one point. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Friday all but confirmed market expectations for an interest rate rise in March barring any sharp deterioration in economic conditions. US money market futures are pricing in about 90 percent chance the Fed will raise interest rates by 0.25 percentage point at its meeting on March 14-15, with another rate hike fully priced in by September. "A rate hike is almost a done deal now. So the focus will be on the pace of rate hikes after that. If there's hawkish projections, the dollar could rise further," said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management. The dollar dipped 0.3 percent to 113.77 yen while the euro eased 0.1 percent to $1.0608. In the United States, President Donald Trump accused predecessor Barack Obama on Saturday of wiretapping him during the late stages of the 2016 election campaign, an accusation rejected by both Obama and former top US intelligence official. The yuan was little moved so far, fetching 6.8920 yuan per dollar in offshore trade after China cut its growth target for this year to 6.5 percent, compared to its 2016 goal of 6.5 to 7 percent when actual growth came in at 6.7 percent. Keeping risk appetite in check was rising tensions over North Korea, which on Monday fired four ballistic missiles, three of which landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, the latest in a series of provocative tests by the reclusive state. The move came just after Japanese media reported on Saturday US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Japan, South Korea and China this month to discuss North Korea on his first trip to the region since he took up his post. Adding to the tensions in the region, South Korea's trade minister said on Sunday Seoul's responses against discriminating action by China towards South Korean companies will be strengthened. South Korean media said last week Chinese government officials had given verbal guidance to tour operators in China, to stop selling trips to South Korea days after the Seoul government secured land for a US missile-defence system. The Korean won fell 0.4 percent in early trade. Markets also remain focussed on Trump's economic policies and how much of fiscal stimulus would come through during his first term in office. "There are worries that Trump may not be able to push through his spending plans, given delay in appointments of key staff. It now looks possible that the next year's budget hardly reflects his agenda," said Masashi Murata, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. The 10-year US Treasuries yield dipped to 2.472 percent after hitting a two-week high of 2.521 percent on Friday. Oil prices dipped on concern over Russia's compliance with a global deal to cut oil output, though they are staying within their well-worn ranges since December. International benchmark Brent futures traded at $55.76 per barrel, down 0.3 percent. Figures released last week showed Russia's February oil output was unchanged from January, casting doubt on Russia's moves to rein in output as part of a pact with oil producers last year. -Reuters