Asian shares up on accommodative Fed; growth concerns linger

An electronic board displays the stock index at a securities brokerage house in Beijing, China on March 20, 2019.
An electronic board displays the stock index at a securities brokerage house in Beijing, China on March 20, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) Shares in Asia rose on Thursday (March 21) after the US Federal Reserve took a more accommodative stance at its policy meeting, but concerns over US-China trade talks and slowing global growth capped broad gains and pulled some markets lower.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.5 per cent.

Chinese blue chips, which spent the morning swinging between small losses and gains, were flat, while Seoul's Kospi added 1 per cent as regulators announced plans to cut the stock transaction tax this year.

Australian shares, which had risen earlier in the session, turned lower, dropping 0.5 per cent.

Markets in Japan are closed on Thursday for a public holiday.

Gains in the broad Asian index followed a wobbly session on Wall Street overnight, after a move towards risk taking sparked by the Fed's dovish shift was overtaken by growth and trade concerns.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned that Washington may leave tariffs on Chinese goods for a "substantial period" to ensure Beijing's compliance with any trade deal.

China-US trade talks are set to resume next week.

Mr Trump's comments had more of an effect on US shares than their Asian counterparts, said Sean Darby, chief global equity strategist at Jefferies in Hong Kong, adding that a move lower in US rates "actually has a far bigger impact or efficacy in EM and Asia than in the United States itself."

"We've felt that clients have been positioned quite bearishly at the end of last year and have been trying to catch up, so any of the dips have tended to be bought," he added.

In comments at the end of a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, the Fed abandoned projections for any interest rate hikes this year amid signs of an economic slowdown, and said it would halt the steady decline of its balance sheet in September.

But while investors cheered the Fed's new approach, the reasons behind it are creating concern.

"What the Fed is doing is trying to engineer a soft landing. What the market is hearing though is things have gotten so weak so quickly... and the earnings outlook is so dire that real money managers don't want to chase this rally," Greg McKenna, strategist at McKenna Macro wrote in a morning note to clients.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.55 per cent to 25,745.67, the S&P 500 lost 0.29 per cent to 2,824.23 and the Nasdaq Composite added less than 0.1 per cent to 7,728.97.

The Fed's comments dragged yields on benchmark US Treasuries lower, with 10-year notes yielding 2.5245 per cent compared with a US close of 2.537 per cent on Wednesday.

The abandonment of plans for more rate hikes this year pushed the two-year yield, sensitive to expectations of higher Fed fund rates, to 2.3982 per cent, down from a US close of 2.4 per cent.

The dollar continued to ease after falling on Wednesday, with a basket tracking the currency against major rivals edging down to 95.874. The greenback was down about 0.1 per cent against the Japanese currency, buying 110.59 yen.

The euro was up 0.14 per cent on the day at US$1.1427, while sterling rebounded from a sharp drop on Wednesday after British Prime Minister Theresa May asked the European Union to delay Brexit until June 30, a shorter extension than some in the market had been expecting.

Mrs May later said she was "not prepared to delay Brexit any further".

The pound was up 0.2 per cent at US$1.3221.

Global growth worries extended to commodity markets, where oil prices, which had jumped Wednesday on supply concerns, retreated.

US crude fell 0.1 per cent to US$60.17 a barrel after touching four-month highs on Wednesday. Brent crude was a touch lower at US$68.47.

Declines in oil prices, however, are seen to be limited by efforts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) to curb supply. Widely watched US data also showed supplies were tightening.

Gold gained on the weaker dollar, with spot gold adding about 0.5 per cent to $1,318.40 per ounce.