Markets rise as traders consider US rate outlook

HONG KONG: Asian markets rose Thursday (April 18) with traders mulling the outlook for US interest rates as Federal Reserve officials questioned the need for a cut anytime soon.

Oil edged up after the previous day's losses, which were fuelled by data indicating softer demand in the United States and fading fears of a regional war in the Middle East.

Investors brushed off a sell-off on Wall Street where tech firms were hit by worries that borrowing costs will be kept elevated longer than expected.

Comments from Fed officials reinforced the view that sticky inflation and a resilient US economy will keep the bank from easing monetary policy anytime soon.

A rally across global markets, which saw some hit record highs earlier this month, has given way to concerns that valuations may be overdone, and analysts said the current earnings season is key to maintaining momentum.

Expectations for rate cuts in 2024 have fallen from six predicted at the start of the year to just two, while some analysts have even warned of a possible hike.

Cleveland Fed chief Loretta Mester said Wednesday that she thought borrowing costs were at the right level for now and there was no rush to reduce them just yet.

And while she saw inflation coming down, she said: "I do think that we need to be watching and gathering more information before we take any action."

Meanwhile, governor Michelle Bowman added that she thought "time will tell whether it is sufficiently restrictive".

The remarks came a day after Fed boss Jerome Powell indicated borrowing costs could stay higher for longer following three straight months of above-forecast inflation and jobs creation.

"The US central bank remains on track to cut rates twice this year, most likely starting at its September meeting," Solita Marcelli, at UBS Group AG, said.

In early trade, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta all rose.

Oil ticked up, having plunged more than three per cent on Wednesday after figures showed a forecast-busting build in US stockpiles that raised questions about demand in the world's top economy.

Relief that Israel had held off any retaliation for the weekend's missile attack by Iran -- soothing fears of a conflict between the Middle East foes -- also weighed on prices.

Forex markets are also being closely followed after the dollar pushed uncomfortably higher against its peers.

Particularly in focus are the yen and won after US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined her Japanese and South Korean counterparts in saying they were keeping an eye on movements.

The statement came after South Korea's Choi Sang-mok and Japan's Shunichi Suzuki shared "serious concerns" on the recent weakness of their currencies and agreed to take "appropriate actions" to counter extreme volatility.

Analysts said the statement with Yellen suggested Washington would not push back against intervention by the countries.

The yen has lost almost nine percent this year and the won about seven per cent.

However, Yujiro Goto, at Nomura Securities, warned that such a move would not alter the trend in the market if fundamentals do not change. - AFP

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Asian , equities , April 18


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