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Asian Markets Up as Hong Kong Rallies, Eyes on US Jobs

Hong Kong rose 3%, while Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta were also up. Wellington and Mumbai dipped, while Shanghai and Taipei were still closed for holidays


Men wearing face masks walk under an electronic board showing Japan’s Nikkei share average in a hall in Tokyo, January 25, 2022. Photo: Issei Kato, Reuters.

 

Asian markets rose on Friday as a surge in Hong Kong on its first day back from a break helped overcome a sharp drop on Wall Street, while forecast-beating earnings from Amazon added to the positive mood ahead of the weekend.

However, a surprisingly hawkish tilt from the European Central Bank added fuel to fears about the removal of pandemic-era stimulus.

All eyes are now on the release later in the day of US jobs data, which is often used as a guide for possible Federal Reserve policy decisions, before next week’s eagerly awaited inflation report.

With the jobs market well on the recovery track as the economy reopens, the central bank has said it feels it has enough room to begin raising interest rates from March to fight soaring inflation, which is sitting at a four-decade high.

But while the outlook for growth remains upbeat, investors are having to recalibrate to adjust to the end of the era of cheap cash, which has helped fan a two-year rally that has pushed markets to record or multi-year highs.

Several Fed officials have come out recently to insist they will not put the recovery at risk in their tightening campaign, though debate on trading floors is rife about how much they will lift borrowing costs in March and how many more times they will do so this year.

Commentators say a strong reading on the jobs front Friday would revive talk of a more hawkish move in March with a 50-basis-point lift, as opposed to the 25 basis points usually announced.

 

ECB Shift, BoE Surprise

The ECB’s apparent shift in its outlook towards lifting rates this year itself stunned investors on Thursday.

Boss Christine Lagarde has for months said inflationary pressures would be temporary and dissipate as the world economy reopens and supply chains resume – allowing the bank to keep rates ultra-low this year.

But a record jump in prices last month and no sign of them easing has forced her to re-evaluate, saying the “situation had indeed changed”.

The news boosted the euro, the single currency extending gains against the dollar and sterling in Asian trade.

It also came as the Bank of England announced a second successive rate increase.

“The first half of this year we are now experiencing a rates shock,” Tracy Chen of Brandywine Global Investment Management said.

“If the Fed and BoE and other (emerging market) central banks are too aggressive in hiking interest rates, potentially we are going to face kind of a recession risk in the second half, or at least more slowdown in the economy.”

The ECB news jolted US markets, which were already down owing to a rout in tech stocks, which came after Meta’s sobering earnings report that sparked a 25% drop in its shares.

However, a blockbuster reading from Amazon – which saw it record sales of almost $140 billion in the holiday quarter – soothed some of those concerns and provided some support to Asia on Friday.

Hong Kong led the way, rising more than 3% as investors in the city returned from a three-day Lunar New Year break. Tech giants and market heavyweights including Alibaba and Tencent were among the key drivers of the gains, while financials such as HSBC also enjoyed some much-needed buying.

“It’s clearly a rebound to catch up with the world, but we need to see how Hong Kong can navigate global volatility from here on,” Joshua Crabb, at Robeco Hong Kong, said.

Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta were also up. Wellington and Mumbai dipped, while Shanghai and Taipei were still closed for holidays.

London, Paris and Frankfurt all rose at the open, while US futures also powered higher.

On oil markets, WTI extended gains after it broke $90 on Thursday for the first time in seven years as traders bet on continued improvement in demand thanks to the economic reopening, and with the United States being hit with a cold snap.

Lingering worries over Ukraine-Russia tensions were also playing a key role in the spike, with analysts predicting $100 could be breached soon.

 

Key figures around 0820 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7% at 27,439.99 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 3.2% at 24,573.29 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.7% at 7,582.02

New York – Dow: DOWN 1.5% at 35,111.16 (close)

 

• AFP with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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