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Asian Equities Stall as China’s Market Reopening Fails to Ignite Momentum

ByDayne Lee

Feb 19, 2024

Asian Equities Stall as China’s Market Reopening Fails to Ignite Momentum

On February 19th, the Asian stock market exhibited a lackluster performance, underscored by a cautious investor sentiment due to diminishing prospects of early interest rate cuts on a global scale. This atmosphere of reticence was further influenced by the Chinese markets, which, upon resuming operations post-holiday, displayed only tepid advances.

US Market Holiday Contributes to Sluggish Trading

The absence of trading in US markets due to a holiday contributed to lower trading volumes, casting a shadow on the market’s vitality. Moreover, the recent upswing in technology stocks faces a potential challenge with the upcoming financial results announcement from Nvidia, a key player in the artificial intelligence (AI) sector, slated for Wednesday.

The MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan remained unchanged, following a 2% increase the previous week. Japan’s Nikkei index slightly declined by 0.1%, despite a more than 4% rise last week, nearly reaching an all-time high. Conversely, Chinese blue chips and Shanghai stocks saw modest gains of 0.66% and 0.85%, respectively, sparking hopes among investors for an extension of the 6% rally experienced before the holiday break.

Lunar New Year Boosts Tourism but Rate Cuts Remain Elusive

Encouragingly, tourism revenues during the Lunar New Year holiday soared by 47% compared to the previous year, bolstered by over 61 million rail journeys. However, the People’s Bank of China opted not to reduce interest rates further, a move that might curb the yuan’s depreciation but signals room for additional monetary policy support amid looming deflationary pressures.

Global Rate Cut Expectations Adjust Amid Inflation Concerns

In the United States, heightened inflation indicators have led to a recalibration of expectations regarding interest rate cuts. The anticipation of a 0.5% increase in core personal consumption inflation for January marks a significant adjustment from the earlier forecast of a 0.2% rise. This shift suggests potential surprises in core inflation and labor market conditions that could prompt a more hawkish stance from the Federal Reserve in the first half of 2024.

Market Sentiment on Interest Rate Cuts Cools

Futures markets now indicate a mere 28% likelihood of a rate reduction in May, a stark contrast to the previous consensus. The market has adjusted to anticipate less than 100 basis points of easing this year, removing two quarter-point rate cuts from expectations.

Despite the outdated nature of the minutes from the Fed’s last policy meeting, any discussions on the timing of potential rate cuts will be scrutinized. Upcoming comments from Federal Reserve officials, including Vice Chair Philip Jefferson and Governor Christopher Waller, are eagerly awaited for insights into the future monetary policy direction.

Bond Yields and Market Futures Reflect Changing Outlook

The reassessment of rate cut prospects has driven two-year Treasury yields to a new high for 2024, with Treasury futures showing little change in anticipation of the US cash market’s reopening. S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures remained relatively stable, with the latter benefiting from optimistic projections for Nvidia’s performance.

Tech Sector Profits Lead to Optimistic S&P 500 Projections

The tech sector’s robust profit reports have prompted Goldman Sachs to revise its year-end target for the S&P 500 index upwards. With 75% of S&P 500 companies surpassing earnings forecasts, there’s a tangible optimism surrounding the sector’s contribution to market gains.

Currency and Commodity Markets React to Economic Indicators

Higher bond yields have supported the US dollar, while the euro has achieved yearly highs against the yen. However, gold, which does not yield interest, has experienced pressure due to rising yields. Oil prices have seen a decline in early trading, balancing concerns over demand with potential supply disruptions in the Middle East.

The global financial landscape is navigating through a period of uncertainty, with fluctuating interest rate expectations and mixed economic indicators influencing market sentiment. As investors closely monitor upcoming corporate earnings and central bank communications, the need for strategic caution and vigilance remains paramount in addressing the evolving economic challenges.

Featured image credit: mnbb via iStock

Dayne Lee

With a foundation in financial day trading, I transitioned to my current role as an editor, where I prioritize accuracy and reader engagement in our content. I excel in collaborating with writers to ensure top-quality news coverage. This shift from finance to journalism has been both challenging and rewarding, driving my commitment to editorial excellence.