Morning Bid: Jitters heighten, financial conditions tighten


By Jamie McGeever

(Reuters) – A look at the day ahead in Asian markets.

Asian markets will hope to end a bruising week on a positive note on Friday, but fraying global sentiment and a reluctance to take on much risk ahead of the weekend amid persistent Middle East tensions could limit any upside.

Headlines from the great and the good of global finance gathered in Washington continue to keep traders on edge, especially regarding exchange rates and central banks’ policy path relative to an increasingly hawkish Fed.

The world’s biggest exercise in democracy gets underway on Friday too, as the first of seven phases opens in India’s general election, with 166 million voters across 21 states and territories casting their vote.

Asia’s economic calendar, meanwhile, sees the release of first quarter GDP from Malaysia and Japanese inflation for March. The latter could determine whether the dollar, currently around 154.50 yen, makes another push to break above 155.00.

Bank of Japan Governor Kazuo Ueda said on Thursday the central bank may raise interest rates again if the yen’s declines significantly push up domestic inflation.

The IMF on Thursday urged Asian central banks to focus on domestic inflation and avoid tying their policy decisions too closely to anticipated moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

On Wednesday, the United States, Japan and South Korea issued a joint statement to “consult closely” on the yen and won’s recent weakness against the dollar.

The greenback is firm, rallying 3% in the last few weeks to its highest since November. 

U.S. bond yields are ticking higher again and will post their third weekly rise in a row, with the 2-year Treasury yield back up at 5%. The two- and 10-year yields are up 40-45 basis points in the last few weeks. 

That’s a tightening of financial conditions that emerging markets are struggling to handle. Asian stocks are eyeing their biggest weekly fall since January, with the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index down 2.3% this week and off 5% from its high last week. 

Japan’s Nikkei, which hit an all-time high above 41,000 points in late March, is off 7% since then and on Thursday hit a two-month low. A flat close or fall on Friday will seal its worst week since December 2022.

The Nasdaq and S&P 500, meanwhile, have fallen five days in a row, their worst runs since October and December 2022, respectively. 

Figures on Thursday, meanwhile, could help soothe fears that the yuan’s weakness will accelerate capital flight out of the country – foreign investors increased their holdings of China’s onshore yuan bonds in March for a seventh straight month.

Here are key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Friday:

– Japan CPI inflation (March)

– Malaysia GDP (Q1)

– India general election opens

(By Jamie McGeever; Editing by Josie Kao)

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