Most markets rose on Wednesday to provide some respite from the hefty selling at the start of the week, with a focus on the end of the Federal Reserve‘s policy meeting later in the day, when traders hope it will provide much-needed guidance on its plans for hiking interest rates.
After weeks of uncertainty, the US central bank will finally deliver its views on the state of the world’s top economy and how officials plan to tackle inflation that is now at a four-decade high without knocking its recovery off course.
Minutes from its December gathering pointed to a more hawkish tilt, with plans to speed up the taper of its vast bond-buying programme, the selling of the assets it already has and three or four rate increases before the end of the year.
While boss Jerome Powell pledged any tightening would be carefully calibrated, the prospect of higher borrowing costs has rattled markets across the world with most key indexes deep in the red from the start of the year, with Wall Street particularly hard hit.
His comments after the meeting will be pored over for signs of the Fed’s plans, which most commentators believe include a first hike in March.
Analysts were leaning positive ahead of the meeting.
Frances Stacy, at Optimal Capital, believed Powell would try to take a less hawkish tone, saying policy would be guided by data while supply chains were improving and inflation showed signs of peaking.
“I think what that’s going to do is potentially reassure markets that the Fed ‘put’ is ready, willing and able,” she said, referring to the bank’s past in backstopping markets. “That could cause some serious enthusiasm and a short squeeze.”
NY volatile, Asia more stable
Michael Hewson at CMC Markets added: “While no changes to policy are expected… markets will be looking for clues as to how concerned Fed officials are about headline (consumer inflation) and whether they might be leaning towards a potential 50 basis point hike in March, rather than the 25 that is currently priced.
“Given the volatility this week, any sort of indication that Fed officials were leaning in this direction would be risky. However it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibilities for them to put the idea out there.”
Meanwhile, markets strategist Louis Navellier saw three rate hikes this year and that after the recent bout of selling across markets, buying opportunities were emerging.
“I’m very comfortable that we are going to have a bottom here soon. Remember, the market is a manic crowd,” he said in a note.
After a second day of high volatility in New York, Asia enjoyed a little more stability.
Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Wellington, Jakarta and Bangkok rose, though Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei and Manila edged down. Sydney and Mumbai were closed for holidays.
London, Paris and Frankfurt rose healthily.
While there remains some optimism among analysts about the outlook, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday lowered its growth outlook for the global economy saying it has started the year “in a weaker position than previously expected”.
It said Omicron threatened to set back the recovery as countries impose containment measures, while other issues remained, including inflation and geopolitical tensions.
Included in those tensions is the standoff on the Ukraine-Russia border, with Moscow building up troop numbers and the West led by the United States warning the risk of an invasion “remains imminent”.
US President Joe Biden said such a move would prompt “enormous consequences” and even “change the world”, adding that he would consider imposing direct sanctions on Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on top of a raft of measures being drawn up.
Key figures around 0820 GMT
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.4% at 27,011.33 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 0.2% at 24,289.90 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.7% at 3,455.67 (close)
London – FTSE 100: UP 0.9% at 7,436.00
New York – Dow: DOWN 0.2% at 34,297.73 (close)
• AFP with additional editing by Jim Pollard