Asian equities poised to seesaw as U.S. economic news pushes indexes lower

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Asian markets will likely open mixed on Thursday after global equities dipped and U.S. investors considered which stock market sectors would most benefit from strengthening growth.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a facial mask, stands in front of an electric board showing Nikkei (top in C) and other countries stock index outside a brokerage at a business district in Tokyo, Japan, January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Concerns about extended economic lockdowns in Europe and potential U.S. tax hikes also weighed on investor sentiment.

“Rising interest rates, uncertainty of tax policy, concern over inflation all remain top of mind for investors. However, none of these themes speak to rising appetite for risk,” said Peter Kenny of Kenny’s Commentary LLC and Strategic Board Solutions LLC in Denver.

“We are seeing last year’s big gains underperform the broader market.”

European shares closed near two-week lows, while oil prices resurged from steep losses earlier in the week after one of the world’s largest container ships ran aground in the Suez Canal. Authorities were still trying to clear the ship from the vital shipping lane on Wednesday afternoon.

“While the cruise industry is a tiny part of the stock market … it’s possible that the news was a reminder about the broader threat that COVID-19 still poses to the entire re-opening narrative,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We don’t doubt that the economy will reopen substantially year-over-year and that GDP growth will be impressive, but it is worth remembering that we need to be wary of the market getting too far ahead of the facts on the ground.”

Australian S&P/ASX 200 futures lost 0.18% in early trading.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures lost 0.42%.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 futures rose 0.39%.

Emerging market stocks lost 1.91%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 1.86% lower.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 3.09 points, or 0.01%, to 32,420.06, giving up early gains even as investors piled back into economically sensitive sectors on bets for a continuing U.S. economic recovery, analysts said.

The Nasdaq Composite dropped 265.81 points, or 2.01%, to 12,961.89, while the S&P 500 lost 21.38 points, or 0.55%, to 3,889.14, unable to halt the prior day’s sell-off, as investors set aside economic optimism by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Remarks by the top two U.S. economic officials mirrored what they told Congress the day before, with Powell saying on Wednesday the most likely case is 2021 will be “a very, very strong year.”

Powell said a round of post-pandemic price increases will not fuel a destructive breakout of inflation.

“For the first time in probably six months there are genuine questions being raised about the pace and path of the economic recovery,” said IG Markets analyst Kyle Rodda.

“What perhaps had been complacency about the virus and the prospect of lockdowns has forced the markets to fundamentally reassess the conversation of risks of economies running too hot, inflationary pressures and higher yields.”

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.02% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.90%.

Investors have focused on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note yield, pondering if there is room for long-term interest rates to run, said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

“We know that the economy is primed to begin to really accelerate in the second quarter,” Kelly said. “But we haven’t seen that acceleration yet so that’s what we’re waiting for.”

Support for most of the session came from data showing U.S. factory activity picked up in early March on strong growth in new orders. But supply chain disruptions exerted cost pressures on manufacturers, keeping inflation fears in focus.

U.S. crude recently fell 0.72% to $60.74 per barrel and Brent was at $64.22, up 5.64% on the day.

The dollar index rose 0.196%, with the euro unchanged at $1.1812. Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 1/32 in price to yield 1.6102%, versus 1.614% late on Wednesday.

“We’ll have to watch and wait naturally to see how this plays out,” added IG’s Rodda.

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