TOKYO: People walk past an electronic board showing a share price of the Nikkei index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.- AFP
TOKYO: People walk past an electronic board showing a share price of the Nikkei index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.- AFP

Asian markets mostly rise as traders weigh rates outlook

HONG KONG: Most Asian markets squeezed out gains Monday as traders weighed the chances of the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates this year after a forecast-busting US jobs report dented hopes for a first move in June. Wall Street’s three main indexes rallied Friday on news that 303,000 jobs were created in the United States in March, with investors focusing on the positives for the economy instead of the monetary policy implications.

However, observers warned that the figures - which also showed unemployment falling and wage growth still strong - could prevent the Fed from cutting rates three times in 2024, as it has previously indicated. Traders are now awaiting the release this week of minutes from the central bank’s most recent meeting, as well as the latest consumer price index reading. The CPI “will be a bigger test of whether the recent inflation bump is a trend or not”, said Saxo’s Redmond Wong, referring to bigger-than-expected inflation figures at the start of the year. Still, Marc Chandler at Bannockburn Global Forex warned that “reasons to dismiss the employment data are becoming thinner”.

“The economy is still growing faster than what the Fed regards as the long-term non-inflation pace.” There is now growing talk that the Fed will not even be able to cut rates three times this year, with some suggesting that if data continued to come in strong then officials could face pressure to hold off until 2025. Erik F. Nielsen at UniCredit Group added: “Based on existing economic data, i.e. if purely ‘data-dependent’, the Fed could easily end up cutting rates only once this year, if at all.”

Asian investors battled to take the baton from Wall Street with most markets ticking higher. Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Mumbai and Taipei rose, but Shanghai, Manila and Wellington were down. London, Frankfurt and Paris all rose in the morning. Investors are also keeping tabs on geopolitics, with state-linked Egyptian outlet Al-Qahera saying Monday that talks in Cairo aimed at brokering a truce between the Zionist entity and Hamas had been positive.

The report said there was “significant progress being made on several contentious points of agreement”, citing a high-ranking Egyptian source. However, the Zionist entity said Sunday it was still preparing for military operations in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, even after announcing a partial withdrawal from the territory. Eyes are also on Iran, which has threatened to retaliate against the Zionist entity after blaming it for a deadly attack on its embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus. Revolutionary Guards chief General Hossein Salami warned the Zionist entity “cannot escape the consequences” of last week’s strike.

The sliver of hope for a halt to fighting weighed on oil prices Monday, with both main contracts down more than one percent. Still, they remain around five-month highs on supply worries in the event of the Middle East crisis morphing into a war between the Zionist entity and Iran, while the strong US economy and Ukraine war were also lending support. Gold retreated after hitting a fresh record of $2,330.50 on Friday, having surged on the back of rate-cut bets and geopolitical worries. — AFP

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