Singapore leads Asian markets lower after Fed signals potential rate hike in June; STI down 0.7%

 An investor sits in front of a screen showing stock market movements at a securities firm in Fuyang.
An investor sits in front of a screen showing stock market movements at a securities firm in Fuyang.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Asian stocks fell and the US dollar stood tall on Thursday (May 19) as markets scrambled to factor in the possibility of another interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve as early as June. Gold stumbled.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.8 per cent in early trade as the prospect of a second US rate hike in six months raised concerns for emerging markets already grappling with a slowing China.

Singapore stocks led the regional decline with the Straits Times Index down 0.69 per per cent at 2,757.95 as of 10:13am.

South Korea and Australia led regional markets were 0.5 and 0.6 per cent lower respectivey as investors refocused their attention on the growing differences between the health of the world's biggest economy and its global counterparts.

"In the short term, emerging markets are the most vulnerable," Steven Englander, global head of G10 FX strategy at Citibank wrote in a note to clients. "Overall, the divergence trade is revived until further notice," he wrote in a note to clients, saying the Canadian dollar and the Aussie were vulnerable due to concerns around those economies.

Japan's Nikkei rose early thanks to a weaker yen, which fell to a three-week low against the dollar after minutes of the last Fed meeting suggested a rate increase is firmly on the table at its policy review next month. But the Nikkei later pared its gains to just 0.2 per cent.

The Fed minutes noted Fed officials said it would be appropriate to raise interest rates in June if economic data points to stronger second-quarter growth as well as firming inflation and employment.

Such views helped revive the prospect of a rate hike in June, which had been dismissed by many investors.

CME fed fund futures showed that the probability of a June rate increase by the Fed rose to 34 per cent after the release of the FOMC minutes on Wednesday from 19 perc ent earlier in the day, 15 per cent on Tuesday, and less than 1.0 per cent a month ago, according to CME group's FedWatch.

Still, many in the market are still sceptical the Fed would raise rates ahead of Britain's June 23 referendum on whether to remain in the European Union, a risk that was pointed out by some Fed policymakers. July may be a stronger possibility.

The dollar index hovered just below a seven-week high of 95.27 scaled overnight, boosted by sharply higher US Treasury yields.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note yield jumped more than 10 basis points on Wednesday while the yield curve steepened slightly, breaking a multi-month streak of flattening.

The greenback was steady at a three-week high of 110.25 against the yen hit overnight. The euro was pinned down near US$1.1214, its lowest since late March.

"With April activity indicators consistent with a healthy bounce-back in growth, we see risks of two rate hikes in 2016, with the first coming in the June/July time horizon," strategists at Barclays said.

Fed Vice Chairs William Dudley and Stanley Fischer are due to speak later in the day and the markets will be eager to get more details on the Fed's thinking.

Gold took the renewed expectations of a US rate hike on the chin. Prices for the precious metal are inversely correlated to monetary policy easing, fell 0.1 per cent to a three-week low US$1256 per ounce.

The stronger dollar also weighed on commodities such as oil, which saw US crude futures lose 0.4 per cent to US$48.00 a barrel. A stronger dollar tends to put non-U.S. buyers of greenback-denominated commodities at a disadvantage.