Asian shares slip ahead of Fed interest rate decision

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man
A currency trader walks by the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), left, and the foreign exchange rate between U.S. dollar and South Korean won at a foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Shares were mostly lower in Asia on Wednesday as investors waited for Wednesday’s decision by the Federal Reserve on interest rates.

Hong Kong, Seoul, Mumbai and Sydney declined while many other markets were closed for holidays.

The Fed monetary policy committee is expected to raise its benchmark rate by twice the usual amount this week as it steps up its fight against inflation, which is at a four-decade high. It has already raised its key overnight rate once, the first such increase since 2018, and Wall Street is expecting several big increases over the coming months.

“All eyes are peering toward the FOMC meeting and a rate hike is an absolute given,” Clifford Bennett, chief economist at ACY Securities, said in a commentary.

Market players might pick up bargains on the assumption that the rate increase has already been taken into account. But he added that “this excludes the on-going shock to consumers and particularly mortgage holders that will reverberate in an accelerating fashion throughout the economy. This ‘pain’ process will likely continue for the next one to three years in the real world”

Central banks in many countries are raising rates as inflation squeezes businesses and consumers. To counter that, regulators are raising costs for borrowing that had dipped to record lows during the pandemic.

But higher prices on everything from food to gas and clothing and on borrowing will likely slow consumer spending, crimping economic growth.

Weighing on all markets are the uncertainties brought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian forces began storming a steel mill containing the last pocket of resistance in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian defenders said Tuesday, just as more than 100 civilians evacuated from the bombed-out plant reached relative safety in Ukrainian held territory.

Wall Street advanced Tuesday on hopes that the Fed won’t shock the markets with more aggressive monetary tightening plans than expected. Investors will be watching to see how Fed Chair Jerome Powell frames the future outlook, analysts said.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1.2% to 20,860.09 while the Kospi in Seoul lost 0.4% to 2,669.40. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gave up 0.1% to 7,306.70.

India’s Sensex lost 0.7% to 56,563.68.

Taiwan’s benchmark rose and most other regional markets were closed.

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 ended 0.5% higher at 4,175.48. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.5% to 33,128.79 and the Nasdaq inched up 0.2% to 12,563.76.

Smaller company stocks outpaced the broader market. The Russell 2000 added 0.9% to 1,898.86.

Banks and other financial stocks helped lift the market. Energy stocks also made solid gains following encouraging quarterly earnings reports from several oil and gas companies. Retailers and other companies that rely on direct consumer spending lagged the broader market.

Bond yields were mixed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.97% from 2.99% late Monday. Treasury yields have been generally rising all year as investors prepare for higher interest rates, which will make borrowing money more expensive.

Investors have been closely reviewing the latest round of company earnings to get more details on how inflation is impacting business and consumer activity.

They also are getting some updates on the labor market, which was slow to recover from the pandemic initially, but has grown stronger. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Tuesday that employers posted a record 11.5 million job openings in March, meaning the United States now has an unprecedented two job openings for every person who is unemployed.

On Friday, the Labor Department is expected to report that the economy generated another 396,000 new jobs in April, according FactSet. That would mark an unprecedented 12th straight month that hiring has come in at roughly 400,000 or more.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.08 to $103.49 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gave up $2.76 on Tuesday.

Brent crude oil, the basis for pricing international oils, gained 93 cents to $105.90 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar rose to 130.14 Japanese yen from 130.11 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.0514 from $1.0522.