Asian equities inhibited by priced-in optimism despite no-tapering US signals

Tokyo — Asian shares were mixed on Wednesday as already high valuations discouraged investors from buying equities ahead of a closely watched US Federal Reserve meeting.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan declined 0.23%. Australian stocks rose 0.55%, but shares in China slipped 0.44%. Stocks in Tokyo edged 0.16% higher.

S&P 500 e-mini stock futures rose 0.09%.

Fed chair Jerome Powell is expected to reaffirm that easy monetary policy will remain in place for a prolonged period and dismiss any suggestions of tapering bond purchases.

US President Joe Biden will also address a joint session of Congress, where he may make additional comments about infrastructure and stimulus spending.

These developments would normally be a positive for stocks, but analysts say so much economic optimism is already priced into the equity market that it is difficult to buy stocks further from current levels.

“We expect the Fed’s tone on the economy to be more positive than at the March FOMC meeting, reflecting the ongoing pick-up in the data, but we don’t expect any substantive new signal yet on tapering,” analysts at TD Securities wrote in a research note.

“While we do not expect much price action due to the Fed decision, Biden’s remarks could continue to suggest more incoming supply, bear steepening the [Treasury yield] curve.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.01%, but the S&P 500 lost 0.02%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.34% as investors digested a mixed bag of earnings from Tesla, 3M, Microsoft, and Google-parent Alphabet overnight.

Some investors were also reluctant to move before earnings from heavyweights Apple, Facebook, and due later this week.

An improving US economy, rising coronavirus vaccination rates, and expectations for big fiscal spending are causing more investors to question when the Fed will start slowing its bond purchases and how much inflation policymakers will tolerate.

Break even rates on 10-year Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, a measure of expected annual inflation for the coming decade, rose to 2.41%, the highest since 2013.

Yields on benchmark 10-year Treasuries stood at 1.6217%, close to a one-week high.

The dollar edged up slightly against the yen and the British pound, but trading is expected to be subdued until Powell speaks after the Fed meeting.

The Australian dollar was knocked lower after disappointing data on consumer prices.

In the cryptocurrency market, Ether rose to an all-time high above $2,700 after Bloomberg reported that the European Investment Bank plans to sell a two-year digital bond worth €100m  ($120.80m) on the ethereum blockchain network.

Rival cryptocurrency bitcoin edged up to $55,618.

In commodities, Brent crude futures fell 0.09% to $66.36 a barrel while US West Texas Intermediate crude lost 0.05% to $62.91 per barrel due to worries about energy demand.

Benchmark copper continued its ascent towards a record above $10,000/tonne. The metal is used so widely in manufacturing and heavy industry across the globe that it is considered a barometer of economic health.

However, gold, which is often seen as a hedge against inflation, fell 0.49% to $1,768.00 in cautious trade ahead of the Fed meeting.