Asian markets mostly rose Thursday but dealers remain wary following the release of Federal Reserve minutes that provided a mixed bag, with a speech by its chair at the end of the week the key point of focus.
Donald Trump provided some fresh hope for China-US trade talks by saying a deal will “probably” be made, and Wall Street ended with healthy gains thanks to blockbuster results from retailers that indicated strong consumer demand.
But investors in Asia were playing it cool ahead of Jerome Powell’s address to the central bankers’ symposium at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Friday which will be scrutinised for an idea of Fed interest rate policy.
Minutes from the bank’s July meeting — when it cut rates for the first time since the financial crisis — said policymakers were flexible and borrowing costs were not on a “preset course” despite trade uncertainty and weak global growth.
Stephen Innes of Valour Markets said the minutes “painted a convincing enough picture that the Feds will continue to go along with the market’s expectations for more cuts, as they will not want to tighten financial conditions, but at the same time not feel pressured to get ahead of the curve”.
While the global economy stutters and the China-US trade row rumbles along, equity markets have found some solace in expectations the Fed will continue to lower rates.
But OANDA senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley pointed out that the minutes showed two governors wanted a 50 basis-point cut, two did not want a cut at all and the rest settled on 25 basis points, which was eventually chosen.
“It is hard to see Mr Powell announcing or implying an aggressive new easing cycle in isolation when just a month ago, the (policy board) was clearly very split as well,” Halley said.
“The danger is most definitely that Chairman Powell disappoints”.
Tokyo ended 0.1 percent higher, Shanghai edged up 0.1 percent and Sydney gained 0.3 percent.
Singapore put on 0.1 percent and Wellington gained 0.2 percent while Taipei was marginally higher.
But Hong Kong was one percent lower in the afternoon, while Seoul closed down 0.7 percent, Manila shed 1.3 percent, Mumbai retreated 0.6 percent and Jakarta lost 0.6 percent.
In early trade, London fell 0.5 percent, while Frankfurt and Paris each shed 0.4 percent.
Crude prices dipped following a recent rally fuelled by trade talks optimism and hopes for more rate cuts, though Halley warned they could quickly reverse course.
“Oil would be one of the most vulnerable markets to a Powell disappointment on Friday, and this should temper and short-term exuberance over the next 24-hours,” he said.
– Key figures around 0720 GMT –
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 20,628.01 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.0 percent at 26,007.79
Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 2,883.44 (close)
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,170.78
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1085 from $1.1083 at 2040 GMT
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2123 from $1.2121
Euro/pound: UP at 91.45 pence from 91.42 pence
Dollar/yen: UP at 106.35 yen from 106.23 yen
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN six cents at $55.62 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 11 cents at $60.19 per barrel
New York – Dow: UP 0.9 percent at 26,202.73 (close)