Asian markets swing as traders eye China outbreak, inflation

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets were mixed Monday following last week’s gains with investors keeping a worried eye on a fresh Covid outbreak in China that could drag on the already stuttering economy.

Long-running worries about inflation continued to cast a shadow over trading floors, though a healthy batch of earnings have tempered those concerns in the past couple of weeks.

Reporting by tech titans including Amazon, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are on the agenda this week, and will be closely followed for an idea about what impact supply chain snarls and rising prices is having on their bottom lines.

Their forward guidance will also be of interest as they contemplate tighter central bank monetary policies and a possible hike in interest rates next year. Tech firms are usually more susceptible to higher borrowing costs.

News that troubled China Evergrande had paid interest due on a bond before Saturday’s deadline provided a much-needed boost to confidence though it remains to be seen whether it can meet obligations on other notes due before the end of the year.

Hong Kong and Shanghai fluctuated through the early session, with traders keeping tabs on the latest Delta variant outbreak in mainland China, which comes just over three months before the country hosts the Winter Olympics.

The latest spike has forced authorities to reimpose strict containment measures, but there are fears of a wider lockdown which would weigh on economic growth. Recent outbreaks this year played a role in the below-par expansion seen in the third quarter.

There were gains in Sydney, Seoul and Jakarta but Tokyo, Singapore, Taipei and Manila fell.

Traders are preparing for the Federal Reserve to join several other central banks around the world in winding down the massive financial support put in place at the outset of the pandemic.

Boss Jerome Powell said last week that the bank’s vast bond-buying should now be tapered, with expectations he will begin the pullback as early as next month, though he was not ready to hike borrowing costs yet.

“The risks are clearly now to longer and more persistent bottlenecks, and thus to higher inflation,” he said Friday.

“I would say our policy is well-positioned to manage a range of plausible outcomes,” he said. “I do think it’s time to taper and I don’t think it’s time to raise rates.”

Oil prices pressed higher, with Brent at a three-year high above $86, while WTI was within sight of $85 for the first time since October 2014.

The latest rise comes after Saudi Arabia said OPEC and other major producers would be cautious in lifting output despite surging demand, warning that the pandemic still posed a threat to the outlook.

The Turkish lira tumbled more than one percent against the dollar after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the expulsion of ambassadors from 10 countries, including Germany and the United States, who had appealed for the release of a jailed civil society leader.