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Asia stocks subdued after Powell testimony fails to surprise

2023-06-22 10:18
By Ankur Banerjee SINGAPORE Asian shares made a tentative start to Thursday after Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell
Asia stocks subdued after Powell testimony fails to surprise

By Ankur Banerjee

SINGAPORE Asian shares made a tentative start to Thursday after Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell stuck to his recent hawkish tone as investors assess the future rate policy path from the Fed.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was marginally lower at 522.93. The index is down over 2% for the week and set to snap its three week winning run.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index lost 1.17%, while Japan's Nikkei eased 0.25%. China and Hong Kong stock markets are closed for a holiday.

Last week, the Fed held its benchmark interest rate steady at level between 5% and 5.25%, but officials projected rates will have to increase another half percentage point by year's end to tame inflation.

Markets though remain unconvinced, pricing in a 25 basis point hike next month, according to CME FedWatch tool, and no more after that.

Powell in his remarks to lawmakers in Washington said the outlook for two further 25 basis point rate increases are "a pretty good guess" of where the central bank is heading if the economy continues in its current direction.

While his remarks were eagerly awaited by investors, they offered no real surprise.

Kevin Cummins, chief economist at NatWest Markets, said Powell's testimony didn't shed any new light on the Fed's thinking or the likely future path for monetary policy, adding that his tone was very similar to last week's press conference and mostly leaned hawkish.

"It's clear that the FOMC wants the market to understand that a hike will be on the table for debate at the next meeting. The Fed's data-dependent approach in this tightening cycle suggests upcoming data releases could shift expectations."

Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic said on Wednesday the Fed should not raise rates further or it would risk "needlessly" sapping the strength of the U.S. economy.

The comments highlight the growing debate at the central bank over when and if the central bank should hike further.

Investor attention will be on Bank of England later in the day, with a hike widely expected and the only contention is how big the raise will be after inflation data came in hotter than expected on Wednesday.

Economists polled by Reuters last week were unanimous that the BoE would raise rates to 4.75%, their highest since 2008, from 4.5% but the inflation data pushed financial markets to price in a nearly 50% chance that the BoE would opt for a bigger move and raise rates by half a percentage point.

"Where other central banks' concern is now slower-than-hoped easing, the UK is still seeing acceleration," said Taylor Nugent, an economist at National Australia Bank, referring to runaway UK inflation, which held at 8.7% in May.

"The BoE's conditional guidance put the burden of proof on the data showing more persistent inflation pressures to continue hiking bank rate. Combined with wages data last week, they have got that in spades."

Sterling was last at $1.2769, up 0.01% on the day, hovering close to a one-year high of $1.2849 hit last week.

The euro was up 0.06% to $1.0991, having touched a one-month high of $1.09925 earlier in the session. The Japanese yen strengthened 0.11% to 141.70 per dollar.

Markets will also be awaiting policy decision from Turkey's central bank, with a policy pivot and a sharp rate increase widely expected.

The Turkish lira has skidded to record lows since last month's election and last fetched 23.56 per dollar.

U.S. crude fell 0.07% to $72.48 per barrel and Brent was at $77.06, down 0.08% on the day. [O/R]

(Editing by Lincoln Feast)