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Asian markets mixed after Fed taper talk, bitcoin stablises

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Some members of the Federal Reserve think it is time to consider talking about its monetary policy, according to minutes of its latest board meeting./AFP
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May 20, 2021 - 12:07 PM

HONG KONG, CHINA — Asian markets were mixed in early trade Thursday after minutes showed some Federal Reserve officials contemplating a wind-down of its vast monetary easing measures, while optimism remained buoyed by the outlook for the economic recovery.

Bitcoin stabilised somewhat after Wednesday’s wild gyrations that saw it collapse almost a third in one day before recovering most of its losses.

Global equities have soared after hitting their pandemic nadir in March last year, thanks to central bank largesse and mind-boggling government spending measures, with recent gains also helped by the rollout of vaccines and easing of lockdown measures.

But investors have for months grown increasingly concerned that the blockbuster bounceback expected in the world economy will fan inflation as the stimulus mixes with cashed-up consumers who have been unable to spend finally being let loose.

And data suggests those fears are coming true as recent inflation readings in several countries beat forecasts, with supply shortages and a low base effect from last year compounded by companies hiking wages to attract workers.

The Fed has repeatedly insisted that it sees the upward pressures as transitory and that prices will stabilise next year, adding that it will maintain its ultra-easy policies and record low interest rates until unemployment has been tamed and inflation is running consistently hot.

However, with the economy well on the recovery track, minutes from its April meeting released Wednesday indicated some Fed board members consider the time may soon come to at least begin discussing the bank’s position.

“A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases,” the minutes said.

First taper, then rates? 

Analysts pointed out that the meeting came before figures showed US inflation rocketed more than estimated in April, meaning the worries of those hawkish board members may have since been heightened.

“First they taper, then everyone starts the countdown until the rise with interest rates,” said OANDA’s Edward Moya. “Treasury yields climbed higher as the Fed’s minutes show hawks are starting to emerge as the outlook for asset purchases is no longer unanimous.

“Now it is various participants that think it will be some time before further progress is made with their goals.”

Still, US markets ended lower but well off their earlier lows as investors took comfort that the change in policy would not likely be immediate.

And Asia fluctuated. Tokyo ended the morning slightly down, while Hong Kong dropped as it returned from a midweek holiday to play catch-up with Wednesday’s global losses.

Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei and Manila also fell but there were gains in Sydney, Singapore, Wellington and Jakarta.

“It was a surprise to hear the talk about Fed tapering,” Joyce Chang, of JP Morgan Global Research, told Bloomberg TV.

“The market had been thinking there might be a couple of months before you really saw this particular issue come into focus.” Still, she said the outlook remained upbeat for the global economy as it emerges from last year’s crisis.

Bitcoin slipped around four percent in Asian trade to $37,800, having endured a rollercoaster Wednesday after China signalled a new crackdown on the cryptocurrency before Elon Musk gave his crucial support on Twitter.

The digital unit was sent crashing to almost $30,000 at one point, less than half its record high reached last month, in reaction to Beijing’s warning that it would not be allowed for transactions. But Tesla tycoon Musk later tweeted a diamond and open hands emoji many took as a sign his car giant would not sell.

Key figures around 0245 GMT 

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 percent at 28,030.46 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.8 percent at 28352.55

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,494.75

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2181 from $1.2186 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.4106 from $1.4109

Euro/pound: UP at 86.33 pence from 86.27 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.16 yen from 109.21 yen

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.2 percent at $63.49 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.1 percent at $66.71 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.5 percent at 33,896.04 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 1.2 percent at 6,950.20 (close)

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