Asian markets lower on rate fears, G7 tech tax plan

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Bloomberg higher interest rates would be positive
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Bloomberg higher interest rates would be positive JUSTIN TALLIS POOL/AFP
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Hong Kong (AFP)

Asian markets were mostly lower Monday as comments by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stoked concerns over a hike in interest rates while investors also mulled the impact of the G7 global tax plan on tech giants.

Yellen told Bloomberg News that President Joe Biden should push ahead with his $4 trillion recovery plan for the world's top economy even if it triggers inflation and leads to higher interest rates.

While optimism about the global economic recovery and vaccine rollouts have spurred markets, trading floors remain worried that the rebound will stoke inflation and in turn force central banks to hike interest rates.

Yellen said any rise in prices due to Biden's massive plan to revitalise the US economy would be transitory and that higher interest rates would actually be positive.

"If we ended up with a slightly higher interest rate environment, it would actually be a plus for society's point of view and the Fed's point of view," the former Federal Reserve chair said in an interview Sunday with Bloomberg.

"We've been fighting inflation that's too low and interest rates that are too low now for a decade," she said, adding she wanted them back to a normal level.

Yellen was speaking after returning from a meeting of G7 finance ministers in London which endorsed a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent, rallying behind a US-backed plan targeting tech giants and other multinationals accused of not paying enough.

Wall Street posted solid gains, with all three main indexes closing higher Friday after a tepid jobs report eased concerns the expanding economy would force the Fed to pull back on stimulus.

The optimism faded in Asia, with markets mostly lower in Monday trade.

Hong Kong was down 0.80 percent, Shanghai slipped 0.2 percent and Sydney was also off 0.2 percent.

Tokyo and Seoul were both up 0.2 percent.

"Japan's Nikkei was the big underperformer last week, but the solid lead from the US suggests Japan is likely to enjoy a positive start to the new week," said Rodrigo Catril, senior FX market strategist at National Australia Bank.

- Key figures around 0330 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.2 percent at 29,005.88

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.8 percent at 28,699.32

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,584.18

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2167 from $1.2129 at 2130 GMT Friday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.4144 from $1.4104

Euro/pound: UP at 86.02 pence from 85.96 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.55 yen from 110.30 yen

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.5 percent at $71.57 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.3 percent at $69.38 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.5 percent at 34,756.39 (close)

New York - S&P 500: UP 0.9 percent at 4,229.89 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: UP 1.5 percent at 13,814.48 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP less than 0.1 percent at 7,069.04 (close)