Asia stock markets mixed as dollar surges amid Fed officials’ hawkish comments

Asian stock markets traded mixed Wednesday, as the dollar surged after hawkish comments from the U.S. Federal Reserve officials.

Down Under, the ASX 200 closed down 0.57 percent, or 31.104 points, at 5,452.9, weighed by losses in the energy sector, which fell 0.35 percent, and a 1.36 percent slide in the materials sector.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 ended up 0.5 percent, or 83.59 points, at 16,819.24, likely bolstered by a weaker yen. The dollar/yen pair was trading at 102.92 as of 2:17 pm HK/SIN, around three-week lows for the yen.

South Korea’s Kospi was down 0.15 percent, recovering from losses of more than 0.6 percent earlier after better-than-expected inflation data were released.

South Korea’s consumer price index (CPI) rose 1.2 percent in September from a year earlier, its highest in seven months, on the back on improved consumption.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was up 0.38 percent in afternoon trade.

On Tuesday, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said there was a strong case for raising interest rates, while on Wednesday, in a speech in New Zealand, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said he would be “fine” with hiking rates by year end as data remained supportive, Reuters reported.

Additionally, a Bloomberg report on Tuesday said the European Central Bank (ECB) might taper bond purchases before the expected March end of its quantitative easing program. The ECB later denied it had discussed the subject, Reuters reported.

But that helped to push up the dollar. The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, stood at 96.032 at 2:33 p.m. HK/SIN, after touching levels as high as 96.442 overnight, its highest levels in almost two months.

“The most important factor [supporting the dollar is] an expectation above 60 percent now for a Fed Funds hike in December,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, in a Wednesday note.

The dollar’s strength added pressure to spot gold prices, which slid more than 3 percent overnight, the lowest since the Brexit vote result on June 24. Gold traded up 0.47 percent at $1,272.81 an ounce in Asian trade, but still below the key resistance level at $1,300.

“The sell-off which we are seeing for gold is mainly due to the reason that some Fed members have created noise again that November meeting could be live when it comes to the interest rate,” Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets U.K., said in a Wednesday note.

The pound slipped to its lowest level since 1985 against the dollar overnight on fears over the U.K.’s impending exit from the European Union. Sterling was fetching $1.2695 at 2:36 pm HK/SIN, down from levels over $1.30 last week.

“The increasing likelihood for a hard European exit could impact London’s ability to remain a key financial hub. Many investors are taking long positions, and are trying the near impossible task of picking the bottom of the pound on what will be a long, but perhaps rewarding recovery trade,” Darvall said.

In Asian trade, U.S. crude oil futures climbed 0.97 percent to $49.16 a barrel, while Brent futures were up 0.86 percent at $51.31.

“All eyes now turn to the EIA crude inventory numbers tonight where yet another unexpected inventory drawdown should see the key $51.10 level in Brent broken for a move above 52.00 a barrel,” said OANDA’s Halley.

In commodity-related stock news, South Korea’s S-Oil was upgraded by Citi Investment Research to a “buy” rating on the back of its large-scale RUC/ODC refining project. Shares of S-Oil ticked up 1.65 percent.

Meanwhile, shares of Malaysian palm oil conglomerate Sime Darby rose 2.63 percent, after its share placement to raise 2.36 billion ringgit ($570.81 million) was oversubscribed because of strong demand from institutional investors, Reuters reported.

Australia’s August retail sales rose 0.4 percent from the previous month, compared with an expected rise of 0.2 percent. The improved retail sales were supported by lower interest rates and improved consumer confidence.

Mainland Chinese markets remain shut for Golden Week.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.47 percent at 18,168.45, the S&P 500 closed down 0.5 percent at 2,150.49 and the Nasdaq composite ended down 0.21 percent at 5,289.66.

Source: CNBC