Asian shares slide after Wall Street retreat

Tokyo: Asian shares were mostly lower Thursday, with Tokyo dropping more than 1 per cent as the Japanese yen gained after the Federal Reserve said it would keep interest rates low through 2022.

Asian markets had been expected to fall after the Fed signaled a long path to recovery from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

Overnight, stocks ended a bumpy day mostly lower on Wall Street, though gains for several big technology companies helped push the Nasdaq above 10,000 for the first time. It gained 0.7 per cent, to 10,020.35.

The Fed has cut its benchmark short-term rate to near zero, making the dollar less attractive for investors, as part of a historic effort to counter the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Investors tend to seek refuge in the yen in times of financial turmoil, but a strong yen tends to hurt Japan’s major exporters, such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Fast Retailing Co.

Toyota shares fell 1.9 per cent while Fast Retailing’s also dropped 1.9 per cent by midday.

The dollar fell to 106.98 Japanese yen from 107.12 yen late Wednesday. The euro rose to 1.1387 from 1.1377.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 1.2per cent to 22,842.90 and South Korea’s Kospi edged 0.2per cent lower to 2,190.74. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 sank 2.3per cent to 6,010.20.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.3per cent to 24,970.72, while the Shanghai Composite was little changed, inching down less than 0.1per cent to 2,943.11.

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 fell 0.5per cent to 3,190.14 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1per cent to 26,989.99. Small company stocks bore the brunt of the selling, with the Russell 2000 index losing 2.6per cent to 1,467.39.

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Bond yields were broadly lower, reflecting renewed caution among investors.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury yield slid to 0.72per cent from 0.82per cent late Wednesday. It tends to move with investors’ expectations of the economy and inflation, though it’s still well above the 0.64per cent level where it started last week.

The Federal Reserve emphasized Wednesday that the central bank will keep providing support to the economy by buying bonds to maintain low borrowing rates.

It forecast no rate hike through 2022, which could make it easier for consumers and businesses to borrow and spend enough to sustain an economy depressed by business shutdowns and high unemployment.

The move to leave its key interest rate unchanged wasn’t a surprise to investors, but it was seen as an ominous signal given that nearly all of the members of the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee foresee no rate hike through 2022 was noteworthy, said Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen.

What you have on the FOMC is unanimity that rates ought to stay low and that their communication should continue to emphasize that they’re not going to raise interest rates, absent a material improvement in the economy, he said.

The combination of low interest rates and low inflation has been a key driver for gains in big technology companies that can grow almost regardless of the economy.

That’s been the magic formula for growth stocks, Nick said.

Wall Street has been generally rising since late March, at first on relief following emergency rescues by the Fed and Congress. More recently, investors have begun piling into companies that would benefit most from a reopening economy that’s growing again. The S&P 500, a benchmark for many index funds, is now within 6per cent of reclaiming the all-time high it reached in February.

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Still, uncertainty remains over how quickly economies can recover from the pandemic, given that the numbers of infections and fatalities are still rising in many countries.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said employment data for May that showed employers added jobs instead of slashing more was encouraging but hardly enough to ensure the labor market or economy is back on track.

The labor market may have hit bottom in May, Powell said. But, he added, we’re not going to overreact to a single data point. In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 97 cents to 38.63 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 1.7per cent to settle at 39.60 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 90 slipped to 40.83 a barrel.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday that the coronavirus crisis has triggered the worst global recession in nearly a century. It projected that the global economy will shrink by 6per cent this year in a best-case scenario, with only a modest uptick next year.

The estimate, which is based on an analysis of the latest global economic data, suggests an even sharper decline of 7.6per cent if there is a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks this year.

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