Asian markets cautiously higher as US data looms

Asian markets cautiously higher as US data looms

US inflation data is top of investors' list of economic releases this week
US inflation data is top of investors' list of economic releases this week. Photo: SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP
Source: AFP

Equity markets edged up Tuesday as investors cautiously await the release of US inflation data, aware that a big miss in either direction could have major implications for the Federal Reserve's interest rate plans over the next few months.

Wall Street's three main bourses provided a tepid lead as traders in New York bided their time ahead of the closely watched consumer price index report as well as other key figures including retail sales and jobless claims.

Earnings from retail titans Walmart and Target will also provide an idea about consumer activity later in the day.

A number of Fed decision-makers are lined up to make speeches, which will be pored over for their views on the central bank's best course of action as they try to bring prices under control without tipping the economy into recession.

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There is a general consensus that they have already hit their peak in terms of rates, having brought inflation down from more than nine percent last year, though officials have left the door open to another hike.

CPI is forecast to have hit 3.3 percent in October, down from 3.7 percent in September, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. But that is still well above the Fed's two percent target.

"While the US economic data is expected to be more or less well-behaved, investors are fully aware that fluctuations in inflation, especially top-side beats, are an ongoing risk to markets," said Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management.

"Although the likelihood of a renewed discussion on higher terminal rates is a high hurdle to clear, it is too early to completely dismiss the possibility of a hike in December (or January).

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"Even if the data comes in hotter than consensus and doesn't move the needle for December, it could upcall for a January rate hike."

Other analysts pointed out that policymakers have reasserted their determination to bring inflation to heel and would keep borrowing costs elevated for some time, even if they do not lift again.

Laila Pence, at Pence Wealth Management, said Fed chief Jerome Powell and his team were "pretty much done, but rates are gonna stay higher for longer just as an insurance policy".

"They're going to be a lot slower in reducing rates and that will be a little bit unpleasant for the market next year, but they’ll deal with it," she told Bloomberg Television.

In early Asian trade, most markets were higher but trader nervousness was preventing them from rallying too much.

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Wellington, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta were all just up slightly.

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Key figures around 0230 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 32,757.44 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.1 percent at 17,445.57

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,048.31

Dollar/yen: UP at 151.75 yen from 151.71 yen on Monday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0699 from $1.0701

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2272 from $1.2280

Euro/pound: UP at 87.18 pence from 87.12 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.2 percent at $78.43 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.2 percent at $82.69 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 34,337.87 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.9 percent at 7,425.83 (close)

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Source: AFP

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