Asian shares turned mixed on Wednesday as investors everywhere awaited clarity on the Federal Reserve’s future path for US policy after a likely rate rise later in the day. Economic data out of China showed retail sales and industrial output topped forecasts in May, but a miss in urban investment reinforced views the world’s second-largest economy will soon start to lose some momentum as lending costs rise and the property market cools. The market reaction was tepid with Shanghai stocks easing 0.5 percent and South Korea off 0.2 percent.
Moves elsewhere were also cautious with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up a fraction and Japan’s Nikkei ahead by 0.1 percent. Wall Street had been in a more confident mood overnight notching record closing peaks for all the major indices. The Dow rose 0.44 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.45 percent and the Nasdaq 0.73 percent. The S&P 500 technology sector rebounded 0.9 percent, following its biggest two-day decline in nearly a year. Big tech names, including Microsoft and Facebook, led the index higher.
The U.S. central bank is scheduled to release its decision at 1800 GMT on Wednesday with a news conference to follow from Chair Janet Yellen. Investors fully expect a rate rise largely because Fed officials have told them to, so attention will rather be on the outlook for policy and particularly when the central bank might begin to wind down its massive portfolio of U.S. debt. “The main focus this week will be on the Fed’s balance sheet policy,” said Michelle Girard, chief U.S. economist at RBS.
“While we expect the formal announcement of a change in its balance sheet policy to be made in September, we do not rule out the possibility that strong guidance regarding the time frame for tapering is delivered sooner.”
While the Fed still has another hike pencilled in for this year, a recent run of soft inflation data has left fund futures implying only a 40 percent chance of a move by December. The market’s five-year outlook for inflation has been falling steadily and currently stands at a seven-month trough of 2.18 percent. It had spiked as high as 2.52 percent last November in the wake of President Donald Trump’s surprise election victory.
This leaves the market vulnerable to any hawkish spin from the Fed, which would likely slug Treasury prices while lifting the embattled U.S. dollar. The currency could do with the help having taken a fresh knock on Tuesday, when the head of Canada’s central bank put his own hawkish spin on the outlook for rates there. The U.S. dollar fell as far as C$1.3209, its lowest since Feb. 28, having shed two cents in as many days.
It also lost ground to sterling after UK inflation data surprised on the high side and amid reports Britain’s ruling Conservative Party was likely to sign a deal on Wednesday to form a minority government. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was a whisker weaker at 96.952. It was little changed on the Japanese yen at 110.00 and the euro at $1.1217.
In commodity markets, oil slipped after industry data showed a surprise rise in crude stocks and OPEC reported a rise in its production despite its pledge to cut back. Benchmark Brent crude retreated 35 cents to $48.37 a barrel while U.S. light crude shed 42 cents to $46.04.