Asia lags Wall Street’s record run, wary of Fed plans

SYDNEY: Asian shares turned mixed on Wednesday while the dollar was left adrift as investors everywhere awaited clarity on the Federal Reserve’s future path for US policy after a likely rate rise later in the day.
Futures for European bourses likewise pointed to marginal early gains with the Eurostoxx 50 up 0.1 per cent.
Chinese data showed retail sales and industrial output beat forecasts, but a miss in urban investment reinforced views the world’s second-largest economy will start to lose momentum as lending costs rise and the property market cools.
The reaction was tepid, with Shanghai stocks easing 0.7 per cent.
Investors dumped stocks partly-owned by Anbang Insurance Group after the company said its chairman was temporarily unable to fulfil his duties.
Moves elsewhere were cautious with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up 0.1 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei down 0.08 per cent.
Wall Street had been in a more confident mood overnight, with major indexes at closing at record peaks.
The Dow rose 0.44 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.45 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.73 per cent.
The S&P 500 technology sector rebounded 0.9 per cent, following its biggest two-day decline in nearly a year.
Big tech names, including Microsoft and Facebook , led the index higher.
The US central bank is scheduled to release its decision at 18:00 GMT on Wednesday with a news conference to follow from Chair Janet Yellen.
Investors fully expect a rate rise largely because Fed officials have told them to, so attention will rather be on the outlook for policy and particularly when the central bank might begin to wind down its massive portfolio of US debt.
“The main focus will be on the Fed’s balance sheet policy,” said Michelle Girard, chief US economist at RBS.
“While we expect the formal announcement of a change in its balance sheet policy to be made in September, we do not rule out the possibility that strong guidance regarding the time frame for tapering is delivered sooner.”
While the Fed still has another hike pencilled in for this year, a recent run of soft inflation data has left fund futures implying only a 40 per cent chance of a move by December.
The market’s five-year outlook for inflation has been falling steadily and currently stands at a seven-month trough of 2.18 per cent.
It had spiked as high as 2.52 per cent last November in the wake of President Donald Trump’s surprise election victory.
This leaves the market vulnerable to any hawkish spin from the Fed, which would likely slug Treasury prices while lifting the embattled US dollar.
The currency could do with the help having taken a fresh knock on Tuesday when the head of Canada’s central bank put his own hawkish spin on the outlook for rates there.
The US dollar fell as far as C$ 1.3209, its lowest since February 28, having shed two cents in as many days.
It also lost ground to sterling after UK inflation data surprised on the high side and amid reports Britain’s ruling Conservative Party was likely to sign a deal on Wednesday to form a minority government.
Against a basket of currencies, the dollar barely budged at 96.978.
It was little changed on the Japanese yen at 110.06 and the euro at $1.1213.
— Reuters