Asia stocks edge lower, focus turns to China markets after ratings cut

A currency dealer monitors exchange rates in a trading room at the KEB Hana Bank in Seoul on Sept 4, 2017.
A currency dealer monitors exchange rates in a trading room at the KEB Hana Bank in Seoul on Sept 4, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian stocks slipped on Friday (Sept 22) but showed signs of steadying as the dust began to settle after the Federal Reserve's hawkish policy statement, while investors looked to see how Chinese financial markets would react to a downgrade on the nation's credit rating.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan handed back earlier gains and was down 0.1 per cent after falling 0.7 per cent the previous day.

The index had risen to a decade high on Tuesday, lifted as Wall Street advanced to record highs, before moving off that peak after the Fed heightened expectations for a third interest rate hike this year.

Japan's Nikkei slipped 0.15 per cent, Australian stocks advanced 0.1 per cent and South Korea's KOSPI fell 0.7 per cent.

"It is difficult to pass a verdict on the Fed's stance until it actually starts its balance sheet reduction and the markets can gauge its effects," said Kota Hirayama, senior economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo. "Fundamentals continue to support emerging markets including those in Asia, although the Fed's latest stance did add a layer of uncertainty going forward."

Focus was also on how the Chinese financial markets would react to a downgrade to China's credit rating when they open.

S&P Global Ratings downgraded China's long-term sovereign credit rating on Thursday, less than a month ahead of one of the country's most sensitive political gatherings, citing increasing risks from its rapid build-up of debt.

The S&P 500 lost 0.3 per cent, snapping a four-day winning streak, the Dow fell 0.25 per cent and Nasdaq dropped 0.5 per cent on Thursday as the US equity market braced for a third interest rate hike this year. The United States ordering new sanctions against North Korea was also seen to have weighed on Wall Street.

In currencies, the Australian dollar was steady at US$0.7932 after sliding 1.2 per cent the previous day to touch a three-week low of US$0.7919.

The Aussie was hurt after Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe said on Thursday that the central bank does not have to follow a general move globally to raise interest rates.

A sharp drop in the price of iron ore, Australia's main export commodity, to a two-month low, has also weighed on the currency.

The dollar was steady at 112.445 yen and on track to end 1.4 per cent higher on the week, during which it brushed a two-month high of 112.725 as U.S. yields spiked on the back of the Fed's hawkish stance.

The yen, often sought in times of geopolitical tensions, showed little reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump ordering new sanctions against North Korea on Thursday.

The euro barely moved at US$1.1943 and on track to end the week 0.8 per cent lower.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was effectively flat at 92.169 after slipping about 0.4 percent overnight. It has gained 0.3 per cent on the week.

Crude oil prices were little changed amid a wait-and-see mood as ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers meet later on Friday to discuss a possible extension of the 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) of supply cuts to support prices.

While many analysts expect an extension of the deal beyond next March, a number of them also said that prices have risen high enough to tempt countries to boost production above agreed levels.

Brent crude was up 0.1 per cent at US$56.50 a barrel after reaching a five-month high of US$56.53 overnight.