Asian stocks slide, dollar hits six-week high as Powell revives Fed rate fears
TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks fell on Thursday after Wall Street marked its worst monthly performance in two years as the impact from new Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell’s hawkish-sounding comments reverberated across the broader risk asset markets.
Investors have been on edge in recent weeks amid concerns higher interest rates in advanced economies, led by the United States, could dent world growth.
Powell, in his first public appearance as head of the Fed, had vowed on Tuesday at a congressional hearing to prevent the economy from overheating while sticking with a plan to gradually raise interest rates.
Those comments rekindled speculation in the equity markets about the pace of US monetary tightening this year being more rapid than expected, amid concerns that higher borrowing rates could crimp corporate activity and cool economic growth.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.35 percent and headed for its third day of losses.
Chinese shares bucked the trend and edged up after a private survey showed growth in China’s manufacturing sector picking up to a six-month high. Shanghai shares rose 0.4 percent.
Australian stocks fell 0.85 percent, South Korea’s KOSPI shed 1.2 percent Japan’s Nikkei dropped 1.6 percent.
The losses in Asia came amid a broad selloff on Wall Street, where the Dow and S&P 500 capped their worst months since January 2016 overnight after suffering sharp losses early in February.
The Dow scaled an all-time high late in January, before falling about 12 percent from the peak at the start of February as a rise in US yields to multi-year highs unnerved Wall Street. It went on to recover a bulk of those losses before the rebound stalled following Powell’s comments.
The Fed’s last round of economic projections in December pointed to three rate increases this year, but views expressed by Powell prompted investors to increase bets on four rate increases in 2018.
The dollar has been supported after the Fed chair’s comments. The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies rose to 90.744, its highest since Jan. 19 and last stood at 90.717.
The index has managed to claw back from a three-year low of 88.253 set in mid-February amid fears of a ballooning US budget deficit and lingering worries that Washington could pursue a weak dollar policy took a toll.
“The comeback by the dollar could negatively impact crude oil prices and in turn cool inflation expectations. In that case, the equity markets could be forced to undergo significant adjustments,” said Makoto Noji, senior strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.
US crude oil futures stood little changed at $61.63 per barrel after sliding more than 2 percent overnight. Brent crude lost 0.17 percent to $64.62 per barrel.
A stronger greenback tends to weigh on commodities including crude, as it makes it more expensive for non-US buyers of the dollar-denominated products.
The euro was steady at $1.2192 and in close reach of a 1-1/2-month low of $1.2188 plumbed the previous day. The common currency came under pressure after data on Wednesday showed euro zone inflation slowing to a 14-month low and underscored the European Central Bank’s caution in removing monetary stimulus.
The dollar dipped 0.05 percent to 106.605 yen, having slipped from the week’s peak of 107.680 as broader risk aversion favored its Japanese peer.
The Australian dollar fell 0.5 percent to $0.7720, its lowest since late December.
Long-term US Treasury yields stood little changed at 2.866 percent after declining about 3 basis points overnight on month-end purchases by investors rebalancing their portfolios and weaker Wall Street shares.