Asian markets drift lower as traders eye big week

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets slipped Monday at the start of a key week for equities as the Federal Reserve prepares to lift interest rates again and some of the world’s biggest companies report earnings.

While the US central bank is widely expected to hike borrowing costs by 75 basis points, traders will be poring over policymakers’ views on the outlook for the world’s biggest economy as they try to rein in inflation while nurturing growth.

The decision comes a day before second-quarter gross domestic product data is released, with some observers warning it could show a second successive contraction, which is considered a technical recession.

All three main indexes on Wall Street ended last week with a loss, ending a three-day rally, following a big data miss on the crucial services sector.

And Asia fared little better, with Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Taipei, Manila, Jakarta and Wellington all in the red, though there were small gains in Singapore and Seoul.

Investors are also awaiting the release of earnings from business titans Apple, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet.

The figures will provide a clearer idea about the impact of surging inflation and rising interest rates on consumer spending and companies’ bottom lines.

But analysts remain cautious about the outlook, while attention on trading floors turns from rising prices to economic growth, with some saying a slowdown could allow banks to ease up on their monetary tightening.

Fed chiefs have already said their main priority was bringing inflation down from four-decade highs, even at the expense of growth.

“We still see further downside for risky assets as recession fears accumulate and central banks remain committed to fighting inflation at the expense of growth,” said Standard Chartered strategist Eric Robertsen.

And Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management added: “While rising jobless claims, softer home sales, and a buildup in gasoline inventory show the Fed front-loading rate hikes are causing a slowdown and bringing inflation under control, the issue is at what cost.”

The economic slowdown — and the expected hit to demand — continues to put pressure on oil prices, with both main contracts well down Monday.

Crude has given up most of the gains seen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Vandana Hari, of Vanda Insights, said she saw further losses.

“While prices have been volatile, I expect renewed downward pressure on crude,” she said, adding that the Fed decision “will likely serve as a fresh reminder of the economic headwinds ahead”.