HONG KONG (AFP): Markets flittered between gains and losses Wednesday (Sept 27) as the hefty selling witnessed in the first few days of the week eased but traders remain consumed by worries over the economy as the Federal Reserve considers hiking interest rates further.
With inflation still sitting well above the central bank's target and the labour market showing few signs of softening, decision-makers have warned that more tightening will be needed to achieve their goal.
However, while the economy remains in reasonable health, there is a growing concern that officials could tip it into recession next year if it keeps squeezing, with rates already at a 22-year high.
The bank last week indicated another lift could be on the cards before year's end, while boss Jerome Powell and other policy board members have said they could keep borrowing costs elevated for an extended period, with fewer cuts than hoped in 2024.
Analysts said investors were trying to come to terms with that prospect, and a spike in Treasury yields -- a gauge of future rates -- was causing a lot of unease in trading rooms, particularly with earnings season looming.
In a sign of the worry among investors, the VIX "fear gauge" of volatility is sitting at its highest level since late May following data showing a bigger-than-expected drop in US consumer confidence owing to higher gasoline and food prices.
"The expected further increase in volatility over the next few weeks is valid," said Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management.
"Earnings season jitters are likely compounding the current 'higher-for-longer' sell-off and encouraging folks to pull even more chips off the table.
"During this period, companies often announce whether they will surpass or fail to reach their full-year goals; hence, corporate earnings could be viewed as a place-setter and may dictate if there is any Santa rally this year."
All three main indexes on Wall Street tanked Tuesday, shedding more than one per cent apiece.
And there was little conviction in Asia in early trade Wednesday.
Hong Kong and Shanghai rose on bargain-buying after two days of steep losses, while Manila and Jakarta were also up, but Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Wellington and Taipei were in the red.
The dollar held gains against its peers, with a spike to an 11-month high above 149 yen putting the spotlight on Japanese authorities who have warned they are willing to intervene in forex markets to support their currency, as they did in November.
Traders are also keeping tabs on Washington, where a standoff between lawmakers over a budget bill threatens to cause a government shutdown, which Moody's has warned could have a negative impact on the country's credit rating.
Senators from both parties drafted a last-ditch short-term proposal Tuesday -- with a Sept 30 deadline for a deal -- that would keep the government running until November 17.
But there was no immediate indication that the warring factions of House Republicans, who have forced the showdown over government funding, would take it up if passed in the Senate.
"Shutting the government down over a domestic budget dispute doesn't strengthen anyone's political position," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. "It just puts important progress on ice. And it leaves millions of Americans on edge."