Asian Stocks Dip After Fed Tapers Aggressive Easing Expectations

TOKYO (Reuters) -
People walk past an electronic stock indicator of a securities firm in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Asian stocks dipped on Wednesday and the dollar inched up from three-month lows after Federal Reserve officials tempered expectations in the markets for aggressive monetary easing.

In early European trade, the pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures were down 0.29%, German DAX futures lost 0.31% and Britain’s FTSE futures slipped 0.26%.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Tuesday said the central bank is “insulated from short-term political pressures,” pushing back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for a significant rate cut.

Powell, however, said Fed policymakers are wrestling with questions on whether uncertainties around U.S. tariffs, Washington’s conflicts with trading partners and tame inflation require a rate cut.

Separately, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard told Bloomberg media channel that he does not think the U.S. economy is dire enough to warrant a 50-basis-point cut in July, even though he pushed to lower rates last week.

Equity markets have rallied this month, with Wall Street shares advancing to record highs, after the Fed was seen to have opened the door to possible rate cuts as early as next month at is policy-setting meeting last week.

According to the latest data from CME Group’s FedWatch program, federal funds futures implied that traders now see a 27% chance of the Fed lowering rates by half a percentage point in July, compared to 42% on Monday.

Trump said on Twitter on Monday that the Fed “doesn’t know what it is doing,” adding that it “raised rates far too fast” and “blew it” given low inflation and slowing global growth.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan declined 0.15%, tracking overnight losses on Wall Street.

The Shanghai Composite Index edged down 0.25% and Australian stocks dipped 0.1%. Japan’s Nikkei retreated 0.6%.

“While Powell’s comments do not alter expectations that the Fed will ease sooner or later, they do leave a slightly negative impact on equities,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management.

“The focus is now on the G20 summit. Market expectations for a meaningful breakthrough being achieved in U.S.-China trade talks are quite low, so any signs of an improvement could bode well for risk sentiment.”

The United States hopes to re-launch trade talks with Beijing after Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping meet in Japan during the G20 summit on Saturday but Washington will not accept any conditions on tariffs, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

The two sides could agree not to impose new tariffs as a goodwill gesture to get negotiations going, the official said, but it was unclear if that would happen.

Many G20 members have a stake in the outcome because the row has disrupted global supply chains, slowed world growth and stirred expectations of interest rate cuts or other stimulus measures by some of the group’s central banks.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was up 0.15% at 96.302, extending modest overnight gains.

The index had bounced back from 95.843 on Tuesday, its lowest level since March 21, following comments from the top Fed officials.

The dollar added 0.3% to 107.490 yen after a rebound from a near six-month low of 106.780.

The greenback had sunk to the six-month trough as the yen, a perceived safe haven, had drawn bids in the face of brewing U.S.-Iran tensions.

The euro slipped 0.1% to $1.1353 after being nudged off a three-month peak of $1.1412.

The New Zealand dollar edged higher after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) stood pat on monetary policy on Thursday, keeping rates at a record low 1.50%. But the kiwi’s gains were limited as the central bank expressed concern towards economic risks at home and abroad.

“Overall, today’s announcement provides a strengthened signal that another cut is coming, most likely soon, unless there is a marked improvement in the global outlook,” wrote economists at HSBC.

The kiwi last traded 0.2% higher at $0.6651.

U.S. crude oil futures advanced roughly 2% to touch a four-week high of $59.10 per barrel after data showed a decline in U.S. crude stocks.

The U.S. data helped underpin a crude market already buoyed by worries over potential U.S.-Iran conflict.

Spot gold slipped from a six-year high of $1,438.63 an ounce scaled on Tuesday after the comments from Fed officials trimmed expectations for a rate hike in July.

Gold was down 1% at $1,407.61 an ounce, headed to snap a six-day winning streak. The precious metal was still up 8.5% so far this month.