US Dollar firms on Fed rate hike talk, Trump promises spending boost

[HONG KONG] The US dollar firmed in Asia Wednesday after two top Federal Reserve officials suggested US interest rates could rise this month, while Donald Trump's speech to Congress received a mixed response.

The greenback's rally provided fresh impetus for Tokyo stocks, but regional equity markets were subdued despite forecast-beating readings on Chinese factory activity and Australian growth.

In Washington President Trump's much-anticipated address to both houses of Congress was short on detail but provided enough to keep traders mainly upbeat.

The tycoon pledged US$1 trillion in public-private infrastructure spending and "massive" tax cuts for the middle class, but he did not say how any of it would be paid for.

Ryuta Otsuka, a strategist at Toyo Securities in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News: "Investors are feeling relieved. Focus is shifting toward the Fed."

And while Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at forex firm Oanda, said in a commentary that the address was "high on rhetoric and light on detail" and "a highly scripted damp squib", he added that "it has become a case of no news is ever so slightly good news".

But Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at CFD and FX provider AxiTrader, said in a note: "It was a bit of a disappointment in the sense that he did not put any more meat on the bones" of past promises.

World markets have surged since Mr's Trump's November election victory on expectations his plans for infrastructure spending and tax cuts would fire up the world's top economy.

However, his lack of clarity in recent weeks has led to some uncertainty, while there are also concerns the presidency has been enveloped with controversy that has caused division in the country.

The Nikkei in Tokyo ended 1.4 per cent up as the US dollar strengthened against the yen after the speech, helping exporters.

Investors were already shifting into the US unit after New York Fed president William Dudley said there was a strong case for borrowing costs to rise, while his San Francisco counterpart John Williams expects such a move to get "serious consideration" when the bank meets this month. Fed boss Janet Yellen is due to speak Friday.

Hong Kong was up 0.2 per cent in the afternoon while Shanghai ended 0.2 per cent higher and Singapore put on 0.7 per cent.

However, Wellington, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta all turned lower.

And Sydney ended down 0.1 per cent as traders brushed off news Australian growth hit 1.1 per cent in the October-December quarter, averting a technical recession of two-straight quarters of contraction, thanks to a pick-up in exports and household spending.

There was little reaction to Chinese figures showing manufacturing activity grew more than expected last month.

The improvement in the purchasing managers index follows a series of upbeat readings from Beijing that suggest the world's number two economy may have turned a corner after years of slowing growth.


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