Rising bond yields spook world shares as investors look to US Fed chief

The spectre of higher US bond yields also undermined low-yielding, safe-haven assets, such as the yen, the Swiss franc and gold. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Resurgent worries about rising US bond yields hit global shares on Thursday (March 4) as investors waited to see if Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will address concerns about the risk of a rapid rise in long-term borrowing costs.

The spectre of higher US bond yields also undermined low-yielding, safe-haven assets, such as the yen, the Swiss franc and gold.

Benchmark 10-year US Treasuries rose to 1.477 per cent as investors bet US inflation could pick up as an economic recovery gathers steam, driven by government stimulus and further progress in vaccination programmes.

"It is not clear how the Fed wants to deal with bond yields," said Hirokazu Kabeya, chief global strategist at Daiwa Securities.

"The pace of rises in yields has been far faster than most people have expected and there's speculation the authorities may be starting to think about tightening their policy."

The MSCI's ex-Japan Asian-Pacific shares lost 1.7 per cent in early trade while Japan's Nikkei fell 1.9 per cent.

Singapore's Straits Times Index, however, was up 0.2 per cent at the midday break.

E-mini S&P futures slipped 0.4 per cent while the futures for the Nasdaq, the unequivocal leader of the post-pandemic rally, fell 0.6 per cent to a two-month low.

Tech shares are vulnerable because their lofty valuation has been supported by expectations of a prolonged period of low interest rates.

Mr Powell is due to speak at 12.05pm EST (1.05am on Friday, Singapore time). Many Fed officials have downplayed the rise in Treasury yields in recent days, although Fed Governor Lael Brainard on Tuesday acknowledged concerns over the possibility a rapid rise in yields could dampen economic activity.

The market will have to grapple with a huge increase in debt sales after rounds of stimulus to deal with a recession triggered by the pandemic.

The issue is not limited to the United States, with the 10-year UK Gilts yield jumping back to 0.779 per cent, near its 11-month high of 0.836 per cent hit last week, after the government unveiled much higher borrowing.

Currency investors continued to snap up dollars as they bet on a US economy outshining its peers in the developed world in coming months.

The US dollar rose to a seven-month high of 107.16 yen.

"US dollar/yen has been on a one-way trajectory since the start of 2021," said Joseph Capurso, head of international economics at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

"The brightening outlook for the world economy is a positive for both US dollar/yen and Australian dollar/yen."

Other safe-haven currencies were soft, with the Swiss franc flirting with a four-month low against the dollar and a 20-month trough versus the euro.

Gold hit a nine-month low of US$1,702.8 per ounce on Wednesday and last stood at US$1,711.5.

Other major currencies were little moved, with the euro flat at US$1.2054.

Investor focus on a US economic rebound was unshaken by data released overnight that showed the US labour market struggling in February, when private payrolls rose less than expected.

Oil prices rose for a second straight session early on Thursday, as the possibility that OPEC+ producers might decide against increasing output at a key meeting later in the day underpinned alongside a drop in US fuel inventories.

US crude rose 0.3 per cent to US$61.44 per barrel.

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