Asian markets stall as investors watch for more catalysts

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares were mixed in Asia on Thursday after a listless day of trading on Wall Street as the recent bout of nerves over Federal Reserve policy fades.

Benchmarks fell in Tokyo, Sydney and Shanghai but rose in Hong Kong and Seoul.
“Sentiments may be largely echoing the U.S. indices movement overnight, as markets await more economic data to drive further movement,” Yeap Jun Rong of IG said in a commentary.

Raising hopes for a breakthrough, a group of U.S, senators, both Republicans and Democrats, is seeking President Joe Biden’s support for a $953 billion infrastructure plan.

Biden invited members of the group to the White House on Thursday. The pared-down plan has $559 billion in new spending and has rare bipartisan backing that could open the door to the president’s more sweeping $4 trillion proposals.

Markets have calmed notably since the Federal Reserve surprised investors last week by saying it could start raising short-term interest rates by late 2023, earlier than expected.

The super-low rates the Fed engineered to carry the economy through the pandemic have propped up prices across markets, and any change would be a big deal. That’s why the Fed’s announcement triggered an immediate drop for stocks and rise in Treasury yields.

Now, investors are focusing more on how it may be still be years before the first rate hike hits, particularly as Fed officials say they still see the high inflation sweeping the economy as only a temporary problem.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index
was flat at 28,857 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng
was 0.1% higher, at 28,861.85. In Seoul, the Kospi
added 0.2% to 3,281.24. The Shanghai Composite index
lost 0.2% to 3,559, while Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200
declined 0.3% to 7,270.40.

Shares rose in India and Taiwan but fell in Southeast Asia. On Wednesday, the S&P 500
slipped 0.1% to 4,241.84 after meandering between very modest gains and losses. It’s 0.3% below its record high set a week and a half ago.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
fell 0.2% to 33,874.24, while the Nasdaq Composite
added to its record set a day before, inching up 0.1% to 14,271.73. Most stocks in the S&P 500 fell, but gains for financial companies and others that do best when the economy is healthy helped limit the losses.

Before the Fed raises rates for the first time since 2018, it will likely first have to reduce the bond purchases it’s making to keep longer-term interest rates low. Then it will actually begin tapering, before ending tapering and then signaling that a rate hike is coming. In the meantime, the economy continues to roar higher, and corporate profits are soaring.

If higher inflation persists, the central bank will have to get more aggressive about raising rates.

The latest data on inflation will come on Friday with the release of the Federal Reserve’s preferred gauge. It will cover May, which the consumer price index has already said saw year-over-year inflation of 5%.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury
inched up to 1.49% from 1.48% late Wednesday. Preliminary readings on the economy in June from IHS Markit showed manufacturing is growing at a stronger pace than economists expected, but growth for services industries fell short of forecasts.

Sales of new homes in May also failed to meet economists’ forecasts, with the second straight monthly decline. Apart from a shortage of homes on the market, inflation has also been driving prices higher because of increased costs for lumber and other building materials.

In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil
picked up 10 cents to $73.18 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained 23 cents to $73.08 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude
the international standard, rose 9 cents to $74.59 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar rose to 111.00 Japanese yen
from 110.99 yen. The euro

slipped to $1.1926 from $1.1930.

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