Asian markets rise as Fed looms, Biden prepares to speak

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Asian markets mostly rose Wednesday but there was little conviction among investors as they await the end of the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting and Joe Biden's first speech to Congress later in the day.

There was no inspiration from Wall Street, which provided a tepid lead despite another day of forecast-beating earnings, which analysts said indicated the latest rally may have run out of steam.

While in some countries vaccines are rolling out, lockdowns are easing and economies are recovering, there is a growing concern that frightening spikes in others -- particularly India and Brazil -- could deal a blow to the global rebound.

Adding to the mix is the long-running worry about inflation, with many observers warning that the expected surge in economic activity and demand will put massive upward pressure on prices that will force central banks to hike interest rates from their current ultra-low levels.

With that in mind the Fed's meeting this week will be pored over for an idea about its plans for monetary policy as the recovery in the world's top economy gathers pace.

Fed boss Jerome Powell is expected to repeat his mantra that borrowing costs will be kept at record lows until unemployment has been tamed and inflation is consistently running hot. Still, many feel the bank might not be able to stick to that if prices continue to surge.

"This is a Fed which is oriented toward the market -- they've boxed themselves in, in the sense that they've given the market a lot of reason to depend on them," Komal Sri-Kumar, of Sri-Kumar Global Strategies Inc., told Bloomberg TV.

"If the Fed chairman changes tack you're going to have a massive market correction."

- Positive outlook -

Still, the outlook remains positive, with analysts at Värde Partners saying in a report: "We see a strong backdrop to the economy and more evidence that there will be a material demand rebound in the second half.

"There have been no major signs of economic or consumer resilience or resolve falling away in the meantime. Rates remain the biggest risk factor to markets in our view, away from the obvious of a step change in the pandemic.

"Having said that, it seems to us difficult for rates to move substantially higher in the near term given the sharp moves of the first quarter and the still subdued economic environment."

The next key event after the Fed will be Biden's address to Congress, in which he is expected to unveil another huge spending plan, this on families, that will be paid for with taxes on the very wealthy.

Asian equity markets mostly rose, with Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Wellington, Manila and Jakarta all seeing healthy gains, though Seoul and Taipei slipped.

Oil prices dipped slightly, a day after both contracts rallied more than one percent.

Observers will also be keeping a close eye on copper, which on Tuesday hit a decade-high near $10,000 per ton thanks to strong Chinese demand and tight supplies. The metal is considered a bellwether of the global economy as it is used in an array of goods.

- Key figures around 0300 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.4 percent at 29,102.34 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.2 percent at 28,991.51

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,446.94

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2079 from $1.2095 at 2110 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3878 from $1.3911

Euro/pound: UP at 87.04 pence from 86.90 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.87 yen from 108.68 yen

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.1 percent at $62.90 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.1 percent at $66.36 per barrel

New York - Dow: FLAT at 33,984.93 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 6,944.97 (close)