HONG KONG (AFP): Most Asian markets bounced from two days of losses on Wednesday (Feb 1) as traders tracked a Wall Street surge fuelled by data pointing to slowing US inflation and hopes the Federal Reserve's rate hike drive is coming to an end.
The gains will provide some relief to investors after January's rally appeared to have hit the buffers this week on lingering concerns about the economic outlook.
Focus is firmly on the US central bank's policy decision later in the day, which will be followed for an idea about its plans for interest rates over the next few months in light of the less painful price environment.
Of particular interest will be bank boss Jerome Powell's post-meeting comments as he and most other officials have consistently pushed back against market talk of a change of course from the policy board.
Expectations the Fed will hike borrowing costs just 25 basis points on Wednesday were ramped up after a key gauge of wage increases came in below forecasts.
"The employment cost index (ECI) is closely watched by the Fed as it compositionally adjusts wages growth, unlike other more timely measures," said National Australia Bank's Tapas Strickland.
"More important for the Fed is one of the subcomponents, the wages and salaries for private sector workers excluding incentive paid occupations, which rose 0.9 per cent on-quarter from 1.2 previously."
He added that the reading was "a notable deceleration and in quarter annualised terms would be equivalent to 3.6-3.7 per cent. That is close to being consistent with at-target inflation if repeated next quarter."
The ECI reading came as another report showed a slowdown in the US housing market as well as a dip in consumer confidence, suggesting the Fed's tightening campaign is beginning to kick in.
While they indicate the world's top economy is slowing, hope is building that the data will allow the central bank to wind down its rate hikes.
"We're getting closer to the terminal rate," Sassan Ghahramani, of SGH Macro Advisors, told Bloomberg Television. "Data that has come out does not justify 50 basis point hikes. If anything, I'd say it's virtually a 100 per cent certainty they do 25."
And OANDA's Edward Moya added: "Wall Street is slowly growing confident that this week's Fed rate hike might end up being the last one in this tightening cycle."
All three main indexes on Wall Street ended more than one percent higher, helped by strong earnings from big-ticket firms including ExxonMobil and General Motors.
And most of Asia picked up the baton, with Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Wellington, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta all in positive territory.
However, Hong Kong dipped for a third straight day, having piled on more than 10 per cent in the past month.