Asian markets lifted by upbeat Fed, strong results

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Asian markets rallied Thursday as traders welcomed blockbuster earnings from Wall Street titans, and after the Federal Reserve painted a rosy picture of the US economic outlook, repeating a pledge to stick to its guns with an ultra-low monetary policy.

Traders were also keeping an eye on Joe Biden's first address to Congress as he laid out another huge spending plan aimed at helping American families and paid for with taxes on the wealthy.

After a shaky couple of weeks on trading floors, equities appear to be finding their feet again and getting ready to push to new highs as vaccines are rolled out, lockdowns eased and economies get back on track.

And while there have been fears the expected surge in activity in this year could fan inflation and force central banks to step back from their loose monetary policies, the Fed said Wednesday it was ready to stay the course.

After its latest meeting the bank upgraded its outlook for the world's top economy, while its boss Jerome Powell said that the expected spike in inflation will be temporary owing to last year's low base of comparison and is not likely to need policy action.

"An episode of one-time price increases as the economy reopens is not the same thing as, and is not likely to lead to, persistently higher year-over-year inflation," he said in response to a question from AFP.

He also said it was not yet time to start talking about tapering its vast bond-buying programme that has pumped trillions into the financial system.

"The Fed’s outcome-based guidance and triple-down bet on not talking about tapering should provide an easy playbook leading up to the June 16th (policy) meeting," said OANDA's Edward Moya.

"The US will need to see a couple of blowout nonfarm payroll reports, herd immunity reached before the June meeting, and inflation above 3.5 percent for the Fed to be willing to start talking about tapering."

- 'Ready for takeoff' -

And markets strategist Louis Navellier added: "One observation about why the Fed is maintaining such a high level of conviction that inflation will not be long lasting is that the global reopening is not a synchronous economic event.

"China, the US, and parts of Europe are experiencing late-stage pandemic growth, but this is not happening in several key developing and emerging markets, where Covid-19 data is surging, and their economies are still suffering."

While US markets struggled to lift off, with all three main indexes ending down, Asia was well in the green, with Hong Kong, Seoul, Sydney, Taipei and Singapore leading the way. Shanghai, Wellington and Jakarta were also up. Tokyo was closed for a holiday.

The upbeat mood was helped by forecast-beating earnings reports from Apple and Facebook, two of Wall Street's biggest hitters, who essentially saw their profits double in the first quarter.

That came after a similar strong release by Google.

The three companies, along with Amazon, are among tech titans that have thrived as the pandemic accelerated a shift to working, learning, shopping and socialising online. South Korean giant Samsung also said Thursday it saw net profit jump by almost half in the first three months.

In Washington, Biden hailed the US vaccination drive and its recovery from the pandemic, telling a joint session of Congress: "America is ready for takeoff."

He also laid out his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan to pour money into early education, childcare and higher education -- all paid for by letting the top rate of income tax rate return to the pre-Donald Trump level around 37 percent.

Americans earning less than $400,000 a year, however, would face no extra taxes, he said.

The spending splurge follows a $1.9 trillion stimulus and comes as a $2.2 trillion infrastructure proposal is being debated by lawmakers.

And while the higher rate of tax is unlikely to please Wall Street, analysts have said traders were likely to be willing to overlook it for now as they concentrate on the economic recovery drive.

- Key figures around 0250 GMT -

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.9 percent at 29,345.98

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.2 percent at 3,462.14

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for a holiday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2138 from $1.2091 at 2130 GMT

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3954 from $1.3913

Euro/pound: UP at 86.99 pence from 86.90 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.56 yen from 108.70 yen

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.5 percent at $64.18 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.6 percent at $67.66 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.5 percent at 33,820.38 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 6,963.67 (close)