Asia stocks fizzle over Fed uncertainty

3 min

Hong Kong (AFP)

Asian stocks drifted Thursday, as gains on Wall Street overnight were offset by questions over the US Federal Reserve's December meeting which signalled more US interest rate rises.

Tokyo moved in a narrow range after closing sharply up Wednesday, following a strong performance on global markets.

Hong Kong was up but Shanghai was flat, with dealers saying market sentiment was muted ahead of the release of Chinese trade data next week.

US central bankers hinted Wednesday they may need to raise interest rates faster than planned due to "considerable uncertainty" linked to Donald Trump's fiscal stimulus plans, which could fan inflation, according to minutes of the final 2016 policy meeting at which the Fed lifted rates.

The president-elect's pledge to slash taxes and ramp up infrastructure spending could boost demand above sustainable levels, "potentially necessitating somewhat tighter monetary policy than currently anticipated," many participants in the December 13-14 meeting said.

Despite these risks, the minutes repeatedly said the central bank expects it can continue to make only "gradual adjustments" in the interest rate.

The dollar fell as the Fed minutes highlighted concerns about the impact of a strong currency on the new US administration's stimulatory economic policies.

The greenback changed hands at 116.76 yen in early Tokyo trade, against 117.27 yen in New York late Wednesday, with the weaker Japanese currency boosting sentiment among local exporters.

Among Japanese shares, struggling auto parts maker Takata surged 22.44 percent at one point to 1,233 yen -- more than a 100 percent rise since December 28 when it started to rally on news it was close to settling a US criminal probe into an exploding airbag scandal.

In oil markets, prices eased on profit taking after surging overnight on optimism that the world's major crude producers will deliver on a commitment to cut output and ease an oversupply of the commodity.

Traders shifted their focus to US commercial crude inventories data to be released later Thursday by the US Department of Energy, which is a closely watched gauge of demand in the world's top oil consuming nation.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.23 percent at 19,548.80

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.92 percent at 22,337.75

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.09 percent at 3,161.64

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0520 from $1.0493

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2330 from $1.2323

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 116.76 yen from 117.27

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 13 cents at $53.13 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN 19 cents at $56.25 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 19,942.16 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 at 7,189.74 (close)