Asian Stocks Mixed, Investors Digest Yellen Interest Rate Comments
Asia Pacific stocks were mixed Wednesday morning, with closures in major markets softening the impact of comments from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen regarding interest rates that jolted markets.
In Australia, the ASX 200 was up by 11:24 PM ET (3:24 AM GMT) while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index inched down.
Japanese, Chinese and Korean markets are closed for a holiday. Treasury futures were steady with cash markets closed in the region.
Yellen gave investors a scare when she said on Tuesday, “It may be that interest rates will have to rise somewhat to make sure our economy doesn’t overheat.” She then clarified later that day her comments were not a prediction of an imminent rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Stock valuations hovering near their highest levels in two decades sparked a debate on whether government spending could trigger excessive inflation.
Some investors downplayed the impact of Yellen’s comments on the Fed’s next move.
“Yellen’s comments did not specify a timeframe for rises and she clarified her comments by saying that she was not recommending Fed rate hikes… we still expect the Fed will be very patient as economic data improves,” Commonwealth Bank of Australia currency strategist Kim Mundy told Bloomberg.
However, others were more cautious.
“Moderate inflation and a slow-moving Fed would continue to be supportive, but inflation and a reactive Fed may prove to be a negative for valuations… either way yields and equities are likely to be in a dance as much better than expected economic data continues to challenge central banks’ rates guidance,” NAB director of economic Tapas Strickland.
Investors are also monitoring upcoming economic data from the U.S. after the latest Institute of Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) indicated a trade deficit widening towards a fresh record in March.
The data includes the ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI and ADP National Employment Report, both due later in the day. April’s employment report, including non-farm payrolls, is due on Friday.
Employment will be an area of focus after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell argued earlier in the week that the labor market is still far short of where it needs to be to start talking of tapering asset buying. Minneapolis Fed Bank President Neel Kashkari, a notable dove, added on Tuesday that it may take a few years for the economy to get back to full employment.
Meanwhile, comments from other senior Fed officials, including Chicago Fed President Charles Evans and Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, are also forthcoming. However, the question of whether U.S. President Joe Biden will nominate Powell for a second four-year term remains.
Across the Atlantic, the Bank of England rate will hand down its decision Thursday.