Tech leads tentative rally as Powell soothes markets

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.4%. Japan's Nikkei rose 0.3%

  
Trader Frank Masiello talks on his phone on Wall St. outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., January 15, 2021.

Trader Frank Masiello talks on his phone on Wall St. outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., January 15, 2021.

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

SINGAPORE  - Stocks found a footing and swinging bond markets calmed down on Wednesday, with testimony from U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell providing investors with reassurance that the central bank has an eye on inflation but is not hastening to hike rates.

The rates-sensitive Nasdaq index closed at a record high on Tuesday, while tech stocks were bid in Asia - notably in Taiwan where chipmakers helped the benchmark index rise 1%. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.4%. Japan's Nikkei rose 0.3%.

The Fed had knocked stocks and boosted the dollar last week with a surprise projection for rate hikes as soon as 2023.

However overnight Powell reiterated the Fed's goal of a broad labour market recovery and said fear of inflation alone would not be enough to prompt rate rises. 

"We will wait for evidence of actual inflation or other imbalances," Powell said in a hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives panel.

AMP Capital's chief economist Shane Oliver put it this way in a note to clients on Wednesday: "This is all a long way off as even the first hike is a while away."

Powell's comments helped the yield on benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasuries lower and put the brakes on a rising U.S. dollar. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 1.4666% on Tuesday and stayed there early in the Asia session. 

The U.S. dollar lost a little ground overnight, but it remains near multi-month highs after the Fed's change in tone cleared out a heap of short positions.

The greenback was firm against most majors on Wednesday and last traded 0.1% higher at $1.1928 per euro  and was close to its highest for the year at 110.78 yen.

"Dollar bears, surfing a wave of easy Fed policy, are running out of time," Societe Generale analysts said in a note.

"If the U.S. can escape the clutches of the zero-rate bound, it will earn itself a significantly stronger dollar."

SEPTEMBER SHOWDOWN

Several other Fed speakers are due to appear later on Wednesday and their comments may add to a growing sense among traders that September's Fed meeting may bring the announcement of the beginning of the end of stimulus later in the year.

"Short of something going very wrong, taper around the turn of the year seems like a high probability event at this point," said RBC Capital Markets' chief U.S. economist Tom Porcelli.

Also on the horizon are speeches from Reserve Bank of Australia Assistant Governor Luci Ellis - the first from a central banker since stellar jobs data this month - and from European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde.

Preliminary Purchasing Managers' Index figures, which showed a slowing in Japan in June, are also due in Europe and the United States and will be watched as markets try to get a sense of the breadth of the economic strength behind rising prices.

"It's not a surprise we do see elements of inflation creeping in when the economy is doing well - its not all negative 1970s-style stagflation," said Hugh Dive, chief investment officer at Atlas Funds Management in Sydney.

Elsewhere, cryptocurrencies were licking their wounds after heavy selling drove bitcoin to its lowest since early January - although it has since recovered back above $30,000.

In commodity markets, reopening confidence helped oil prices hover near multiyear peaks even as producers discuss output increases.

Brent crude futures were last up 0.5% to $75.22 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures rose 0.4% to $73.16 a barrel.

Gold, which pays no income and has been hammered by rises in the U.S. dollar and in Treasury yields, steadied at $1,780 an ounce.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Editing by Stephen Coates) ((tom.westbrook@tr.com; +65 6973 8284;))


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