Most Asian markets track Wall St record, Shanghai extends rally

HONG KONG  -  Most Asian stocks rose Thurs­day following another record on Wall Street, with strong earnings, a resilient US econ­omy and Chinese moves to boost the country’s markets playing up against fading hopes for an early Federal Re­serve interest rate cut.

Fresh comments from US monetary policymakers push­ing back against reducing bor­rowing costs too early were unable to overshadow a string of forecast-beating reports from top firms this season in­cluding Amazon and Facebook parent Meta. With traders now resigned to fewer rate cuts this year, they are also now focus­ing on readings showing that US growth remained on track and jobs were still being creat­ed, all as inflation came down. In the latest moves to temper bets on a dovish Fed pivot, the bank’s Richmond president Tom Barkin said he was “very supportive of being patient” on announcing the first reduction, citing the strong metrics.

And governor Adriana Kugler added that she wanted to wait until more data was available before moving. While figures continue to show the inflation battle is being won, decision-makers are reluctant to cut too early in case prices bounce back. Still, New York traders were in a good mood, helped by healthy results from Disney, auto giant Ford and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

That helped the S&P 500 push to a new all-time high within a whisker of the 5,000-point mark, while the Nasdaq and Dow were also well up. “Higher rates don’t appear to burden consumers or corporations significantly, en­abling the Fed to wait longer to ensure inflation control without disrupting the stock market’s momentum,” said Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management.

“It’s becoming increasingly evident that equities are un­fazed and indifferent to the Federal Reserve’s less dovish stance, which suggests that unless there is a substantial deterioration in the labour market, the central bank’s baseline expectation for 2024 includes three rate cuts.” Asia was largely positive and Shang­hai was again sharply higher, building on the near five per­cent gains over the previous two days as investors cheered a number of pledges from Beijing to staunch a long-running rout.

- ‘A NEW BROOM’ -

There was also a positive re­action to the news that the chairman of China’s securi­ties regulator, Yi Huiman, had been replaced after overseeing a sell-off that has wiped tril­lions off companies’ valuations. He will be replaced by bank­ing veteran Wu Qing. “This is long overdue in my opinion, if one chief cannot do the job, then maybe we should give someone else a chance,” Jiang Liangqing, of Zhuhai Green­bamboo Private Fund Manage­ment, said. “At the minimum, a new broom sweeps clean and he could be more bold in taking action instead of just words.” The announcement follows a series of measures and pledges aimed at boosting confidence on trading floors, including curbs on short-sell­ing purchases by state-owned enterprises and share-buying by China’s “national team”.

Still, observers warned the moves would not solve the country’s deeper economic problems -- particularly in the property sector -- which need­ed to be addressed to fully re­store optimism. Data showing China’s consumer prices fell for a fourth straight month in Janu­ary -- and at the sharpest pace since 2009 -- highlighted the hard work leaders face in turn­ing the ship around. There were also gains in Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul and Manila, though Singa­pore and Wellington dropped. Hong Kong was also dragged lower by a more than six per­cent dive in market heavy­weight Alibaba, which was hit by a worse-than-expected earn­ings report that overshadowed a huge stock buyback.

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