‘A lot of red’: Powell’s hawkish pivot to roil Asian markets’ open

Losses loom for Asia's stock markets on Monday (Aug 29) as investors absorb Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's stern message that interest rates are going higher for longer in a painful fight against inflation.

Futures shed almost 2 per cent for Japan and 1.5 per cent for Australia after a 3.4 per cent plunge in the S&P 500 index. The slide was sparked by Powell's rebuttal of the notion that the trajectory of monetary tightening could soon be tempered. 

Friday's US slump further shrivelled a global bounce in shares from June bear-market lows that was predicated partly on bets of a Fed shift to rate cuts next year as growth slows. Powell spelled out the need for sustained restrictive policy, comments that lifted the US 2-year Treasury yield towards 2022's high and sent investors scurrying to the US dollar as a shelter from volatility.

The greenback's strength could be an impediment for Asia's markets on Monday. Investor angst was evident over the weekend as Bitcoin flirted with a sustained break below US$20,000, a sign of fizzling risk appetite.

Powell was "really hawkish" at Jackson Hole, said Manish Bhargava, a Straits Investment Holdings fund manager in Singapore. There'll be a "lot of red on Monday" in a fizzling summer rally as money exits emerging markets, he said.

Powell's comments are a further boost for the US dollar, Westpac Banking and Bank of Singapore analysts said. The latter's chief economist Mansoor Mohi-uddin said that's both as a safe haven and higher-yielding carry trade versus lower yielding Group-of-10 (G10) currencies such as the euro, pound and yen.

"USD/JPY is the most obvious way to play for an increasingly determined Fed, with 140 likely to give way before the September FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) meeting," said Sean Callow, Westpac's senior currency strategist.

The US dollar is up over 10 per cent this year while the yen's 16 per cent retreat leaves it at the bottom of the G10, a schism reflecting the Bank of Japan's continuing easy-money stance that Governor Haruhiko Kuroda reaffirmed at Jackson Hole.

But the prevailing message from the symposium was that borrowing costs are going up from the US to Europe to Asia. Officials are combating some of the highest inflation in a generation, stoked by damage to supply chains for energy and components due to Russia's war in Ukraine and Covid curbs in China. 

"Restoring price stability will likely require maintaining a restrictive policy stance for some time," Powell told the audience at the Fed's annual retreat. "The historical record cautions strongly against prematurely loosening policy."

Investors now see the Fed's policy rate peaking in March at around 3.80 per cent and pared bets on a decline in 2023. The US yield curve between the 5 and 30-year maturities inverted for the second time this month, while the gap between the higher 2-year yield and the 10-year rate widened.

The inversions suggest the bond market anticipates a recession is the necessary sacrifice to get price pressures back under control.

Jackson Hole overshadowed other developments, including a preliminary deal between Beijing and Washington to allow American officials to review audit documents of Chinese firms that trade in the US. That's a first step towards averting the delisting of about 200 Chinese companies from US exchanges.

Equity futures for Hong Kong were steady and a gauge of US-listed Chinese shares bucked the worst of the wider Wall Street selloff on Friday.

"The risk of delisting is reducing and I think that's a catalyst to support Hong Kong's market," said Grace Tam, chief investment adviser at BNP Paribas Wealth Management in Hong Kong.

The bigger picture, however, is the Fed's goal of tightening financial conditions in the world's largest economy until inflation is visibly defeated. Incoming data on employment and consumer prices will be crucial to gauging progress.

"The game of assessing the Fed outlook has shifted from guessing how high the peak rate might be to also understanding how long it might stay there for," said Yanxi Tan, FX strategist at Malayan Banking in Singapore. BLOOMBERG

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