Stocks in Asia rise, yen wobbles after volatile start to week


By Ankur Banerjee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stocks inched higher on Tuesday as investors awaited a slew of economic data, corporate earnings and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy meeting, while the yen was slightly weaker a day after suspected intervention rescued it from 34-year lows.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.36% higher, set to clock in a nearly 1% gain for the month, its third straight month of gains. Nikkei rose 1% as Japan reopened after a holiday on Monday.

China stocks were mixed in early trading with the blue-chip index easing 0.07%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was up 0.5%.

This week’s data releases include European inflation and U.S. labour market reports, while the Fed is due to convene on Tuesday for its two-day meeting at which it is expected to stand pat on interest rates but strike a hawkish tone.

The spotlight remains on the yen after a volatile start to the week as the Japanese currency surged to 154.40 per dollar on Monday from a fresh 34-year low of 160.245, with traders citing yen-buying intervention by authorities.

Markets had been anticipating that Japan might intervene to prop up the yen after the currency fell more than 10% against the dollar this year.

On Tuesday, the yen weakened 0.38% to 156.92 per dollar in early trading.

Japan’s top currency diplomat Masato Kanda said on Tuesday that authorities were ready to deal with foreign exchange matters “24 hours”, while declining again to comment on whether the finance ministry had intervened to prop up the yen a day earlier.

“Whether it’s London, New York or Wellington (hours), it doesn’t make a difference,” the vice finance minister for international affairs told reporters.

Vasu Menon, managing director of investment strategy at OCBC, said intervention alone cannot alter the wide gulf in interest rates that’s in part driving the yen’s decline.

The yen has been under pressure as U.S. interest rates have climbed and Japan’s have stayed near zero, driving cash out of yen and into higher-yielding assets.

“A lot now hinges on the outcome of the Fed policy meeting this week,” said Menon.

“Markets will be waiting with bated breath to see if the Fed turns more hawkish, which will support the U.S. dollar and undermine the appeal of the yen. If the Fed does not sound as hawkish as markets fear, this could help the yen to strengthen.”

Investors have continually had to dial back expectations for the timing and magnitude of U.S. rate cuts this year after hotter-than-expected inflation reports, with markets pricing in a 57% chance of a rate cut in September, CME FedWatch Tool showed.

Traders are now pricing in 35 basis points of cuts in 2024, drastically lower than the 150 bps of easing priced at the start of the year.

The shifting expectations on U.S. rates have lifted Treasury yields and the dollar, dominating the currency market. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was little changed at 105.73. The index is up over 1% in April and over 4% for the year.

Meanwhile, earnings season heats up this week with high profile results from and Apple.

Overnight, U.S. stocks ended higher, led by sharp gains in Tesla shares after the electric vehicle maker made progress in securing regulatory approval to launch its advanced driver-assistance program in China.

U.S. crude fell 0.18% to $82.48 per barrel and Brent was at $88.31, down 0.1% on the day. [O/R]

Spot gold was flat at $2,334.79 per ounce. [GOL/]

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee; Editing by Sonali Paul)

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