Asian markets mixed as traders weigh rates outlook, China data

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets were mixed Monday and oil fell as investors assessed data showing further weakness in China’s economy and comments from Federal Reserve officials showing it was wedded to its campaign of interest rate hikes to fight inflation.

A strong set of earnings from Wall Street titans Amazon and Apple helped US markets end last week with healthy gains and eased concerns about the impact on consumers of surging inflation and rising borrowing costs.

That came after investors took Fed chief Jerome Powell’s post-policy-meeting comments Wednesday as indicating the bank could start to slow down its pace of monetary tightening, providing a much-needed boost to stocks.

However, analysts warned that inflation would take time to come down from its four-decade highs and there were undoubtedly more rate hikes to come.

And officials backed that up at the weekend, with Minneapolis Fed chief Neel Kashkari telling the New York Times that he was “surprised by markets’ interpretation” of the latest Fed meeting statement.

“The committee is united in our determination to get inflation back down to two percent, and I think we’re going to continue to do what we need to do until we are convinced that inflation is well on its way back down to two percent — and we are a long way away from that.”

That came as Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic said he did not think the economy was in recession owing to ongoing jobs growth but that inflation remained too high and he was “convinced” more must be done.

Still, Treasuries continued to fall, with the 10-year yield at 2.67 percent, well down from June’s peak near 3.50 percent, suggesting expectations for future rates are easing.

Figures showing a second successive economic contraction in April-June put the United States in a technical recession but it is not officially considered so until identified as such by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In early Asian trade, investors struggled to extend Wall Street’s lead, with Hong Kong and Shanghai suffering most after another disappointing reading on the Chinese economy.

The closely watched Purchasing Managers’ Index of manufacturing activity shrank in July on the back of weak demand and the strict zero-Covid measures imposed in parts of the country.

While sweeping Covid curbs have eased in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, sporadic lockdowns in various cities and towns have kept businesses and consumers worried.

And there are few signs of an easing of the policy, with officials appearing to emphasise zero-Covid over growth in a Politburo meeting last week.

Adding to weakness in Hong Kong was news that US authorities had put market heavyweight Alibaba on a list of firms threatened with New York delisting if they did not comply with disclosure rules.

There were also losses in Taipei and Manila.

However, Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Jakarta and Wellington edged up.

The data out of China revived demand concerns on oil markets, sending both main contracts down Monday, following a bounce last week.

Brent and WTI both lost more than one percent, and investors are now eyeing a meeting of OPEC and other major producers this week, where they will discuss their deal to raise output slowly.

Joe Biden called on Saudi Arabia to open the taps further when he visited last month as he tries to address a crucial driver of inflation around the world.

But the kingdom does not appear to have made any such moves so far with the commodity having lost almost all the gains made since Russia’s Ukraine invasion.

“The US has expressed optimism about the potential for an OPEC+ supply response, said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.

“However, it seems highly unlikely there will be much appetite for a significant increase in production, with Brent still (around) 15 percent down from year-to-date highs and (down) 12 percent in the last month,” he added.

“OPEC+ seems more likely to signal a willingness to continue cooperating long-term, but it would be a surprise if the upcoming meeting resulted in a significant policy shift.”