Asian stocks sink to two-month lows as markets brace for rates hikes
Sydney — Asian shares hit two-month lows on Monday as markets were forced to price in ever-loftier peaks for US and European interest rates, slugging bonds globally and underpinning the dollar near multiweek highs.
Investors are braced for more challenging US data including the closely watched ISM measures of manufacturing and services, the latter being especially important after January’s startling spike in activity.
There are also at least six Federal Reserve policymakers on the speaking diary this week to offer a running commentary on the likelihood of further rate hikes.
Chinese manufacturing surveys will be released. The National People’s Congress that starts at the weekend will see new economic policy targets and policies, as well as a reshuffling of government officials.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.0%, having shed 2.6% last week. Japan’s Nikkei eased 0.2% and South Korea 1.2%.
China’s blue chips were off 0.2%, while China Renaissance Holdings bounced after the mainland boutique bank said its missing chair is co-operating with Chinese authorities in an investigation.
Euro Stoxx 50 futures added 0.1% and FTSE futures 0.4%.
S&P 500 futures firmed 0.1%, while Nasdaq futures edged up 0.2%. Strong data on spending and core prices saw the S&P 500 crack support at 4,000 on Friday and retrace 61.2% of this year’s rally.
Fed futures now have rates peaking around 5.42%, implying at least three more hikes from the current 4.50% to 4.75% band, and some chance of 50 basis points in March.
Markets have also nudged up the likely rate tops for a bevy of other central banks, including the European Central Bank and the Bank of England.
Bruce Kasman, head of economic research at JPMorgan, has added another quarter-point hike to the ECB outlook, taking it to 100 basis points. Germany’s two-year bond yield broke above 3% on Friday for the first time since 2008.
“The risk is clearly skewed towards greater action from the Fed,” says Kasman.
“Demand is proving resilient in the face of tightening, and lingering damage to supply from the pandemic is limiting the moderation in inflation,” he added. “The transmission of the rapid shift in policy still under way also raises the risk of a recession not intended by central banks.”
The Atlanta Fed’s influential GDP Now tracker has the US economy growing an annualised 2.7% in the first quarter, showing no slowdown from the December quarter.
Higher rates and yields stretch valuations for equities, especially those with high PE ratios and low dividend payouts, which includes much of the tech sector.
Shares in the US trade at a price to earnings multiples of about 17.5 times forward earnings, compared to 12 times for non-US shares.
Ten-year Treasury bonds also yield more than twice the estimated dividend yield of the S&P 500 index, and with much less risk.
With the earnings season almost over, about 69% of earnings have surprised on the upside, compared with a historical average of 76%, and annual earnings growth is running around -2%.
The upward shift in Fed expectations has been a boon for the US dollar, which climbed 1.3% on a basket of currencies last week to last stand at 105.220.
The euro was pinned at $1.0546, after touching a seven-week low of $1.0536 on Friday.
The dollar scaled a nine-week top on the yen to last stand at 136.27, aided in part by dovish comments from top policymakers at the Bank of Japan.
The rise in the dollar and yields has been a burden for gold, which shed 1.7% last week and was last lying at $1,810 an ounce.
Oil prices dipped as the prospect of lower Russian exports was balanced by rising inventories in the US and concerns over global economic activity.
Brent eased 33c to $82.83 a barrel, while US crude fell 25c to $76.07 per barrel.