Asian shares rise on dovish Fed prospects but China caps gains

A man wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, talks on his mobile phone in front of a screen showing the Nikkei index outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan

Asian shares perked up and the dollar fell to two-week lows on Monday after U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell struck a dovish tone at the central bank’s long-awaited symposium, although investors remained cautious about prospects in China.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (.MIAPJ0000PUS) gained 0.45%, and Japan’s Nikkei (.N225) rose 0.28%.

Chinese blue chips (.CSI300) bucked the broader Asian trend, falling 0.20% and the Hong Kong benchmark (.HSI) fluctuated either side of flat.

The larger gains were in smaller markets with Taiwan (.TWII) up 0.54% and Singapore (.STI) 0.77% higher.

“(Powell) really soothed the market’s concerns for now, as the Fed is extremely good at doing, and money is going back to the U.S., not that it ever really left,” said Daniel Lam, senior cross-asset strategist, at Standard Chartered Wealth Management.

Lam said there were fewer uncertainties in the United States than in Asia and specifically China, though he added that any further rotation away from Asia would be more incremental “and less dramatic than we saw in July and early August because a lot of people have already left.”

Chinese companies in sectors from tech to property have recently been roiled by a series of regulatory crackdowns, spooking some investors and pushing the Hong Kong benchmark to 2021 lows earlier this month.

There are also concerns that Chinese growth is starting to slow and so traders are closely watching purchasing manager surveys for manufacturing and services, which are both due this week.

U.S. stock futures, the S&P 500 e-minis , were barely moved, up 0.02%.

Investors had been waiting to see whether Powell would give a clear indication of his views on the timing of the central bank’s tapering of asset purchases or hiking interest rates, which could drag on equity markets.

However, in his prepared remarks, Powell offered no indication on cutting asset purchases beyond saying it could be “this year”.

This dovish tone caused U.S. benchmark Treasury yields and the dollar to slip on Friday, with both trends extending into Monday morning trade in Asia.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes was 1.3070% compared with its U.S. close of 1.312%, and last week’s high of 1.375%. The dollar index which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies was at a two week low.

“There’s a general sense of a bit of a consolidation after Friday’s news,” said Rodrigo Catril, senior FX strategist at National Bank of Australia. “The dollar is technically underperforming on the day, but there’s a lot of data coming out this week from China and the U.S. with nonfarm payrolls on Friday.”

Powell has suggested an improvement in the labour market is one major remaining prerequisite for action, hence a particular focus on Friday’s jobs figures.

Investors in China, in contrast, are watching data this week to see whether they indicate policymakers are more likely to step up easing measures.

Oil was also in focus after energy firms suspended 1.74 million barrels per day of oil production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm.

Prices initially rose on Monday morning, but U.S. crude later gave up those gains, falling 0.28% to $68.55 a barrel. Brent crude pared gains and was last up 0.32% at $72.93 per barrel.

Gold inched lower, with the spot price at $1,814.516 per ounce, down 0.1%.

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