Asia stocks feel rate pain, dollar on a roll

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares slipped on Monday as markets were forced to price in ever-loftier peaks for U.S. and European interest rates, slugging bonds globally and pushing the dollar to multi-week highs.

Investors are braced for more challenging U.S. data including the closely-watched ISM measures of manufacturing and services, the latter being especially important following January’s unexpected spike in activity.

There are also at least six Federal Reserve policy makers on the speaking diary this week to offer a running commentary on the likelihood of further rate hikes.

China has manufacturing surveys and the National People’s Congress kicks off at the weekend and 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 0.5%, having shed 2.6% last week. Japan’s Nikkei eased 0.4% and South Korea 0.9%.

S&P 500 futures were flat, while Nasdaq futures edged up 0.1%. 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. Markets have also nudged up the likely rate tops for 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 2-year bond yield broke above 3.0% on Friday for the first time since 2008.

“The risk is clearly skewed toward 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 underway also raises the risk of a recession not intended by central banks.”

The Atlanta Fed’s influential GDP Now tracker has the U.S 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 United States trade at a price to earnings multiples of around 17.5 times forward earnings, compared to 12 times for non-U.S. 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, around 69% of earnings have surprised on the upside, compared to 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 U.S. dollar, which climbed 1.3% on a basket of currencies last week to last stand at 105.220.

The euro was pinned at $1.0548, after touching a seven-week low of $1.0536 on Friday.

The dollar scaled a nine-week top on the yen to stand at 136.40, aided in part by dovish comments from top policy makers 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 $1,812 an ounce. [GOL/]

Oil prices edged higher as the prospect of lower Russian exports was balanced by rising inventories in the United States and concerns over global economic activity. [O/R]

Brent gained 35 cents to $83.51 a barrel, while U.S. crude rose 34 cents to $76.66 per barrel.

(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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