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Asian stocks mixed ahead of Fed decision; oil prices slump

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Asian stocks mixed ahead of Fed decision; oil prices slump
Reuters
Rae Wee
December 12, 2023

By Rae Wee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian shares were mixed on Wednesday, while oil prices slid to six-month lows as traders waited for the year's final policy decision from the Federal Reserve and clues on whether the central bank will cut rates next year.

Brent bottomed at $72.75 a barrel, its lowest level since late June, while U.S. crude slid to $68.14 a barrel on concerns of softening demand and oversupply. [O/R]

The Fed takes centre stage on Wednesday, where it is due to announce its rate decision at the conclusion of its two-day policy meeting.

Market expectations are for policymakers to keep rates on hold, unfazed by a reading on U.S. inflation that came in largely in line with consensus.

That leaves focus on Powell's press conference and the Fed's dot plot of future policy trajectory.

"The December FOMC is poised to be short on action, given the consensus for no rate hike, but may nevertheless be big on drama," said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank.

"In particular, as a refreshed dot plot accompanied by revisions to the summary of economic projections that offer ample fodder to interpret the propensity for a Fed pivot... as well as confidence around a soft landing.

"But the growing danger is that the Fed's inclination may be to calibrate expectations for a pivot."

Nonetheless, investors continue to bet that the Fed is all but certain to begin easing monetary policy in 2024, and are pricing in a 75% chance the first cut could come as early as May, according to the CME FedWatch tool.

Those expectations kept market sentiment buoyant, lifting U.S. stocks to fresh 2023 highs on Tuesday. [.N]

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan however failed to extend the rally and edged 0.2% lower, though moves were subdued ahead of the Fed decision,

Japan's Nikkei bounced 0.6%.

In China, blue-chip stocks fell nearly 0.5% while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slid 0.8%, as investors continue to look for clues for further policy support from Beijing.

U.S. bond yields hovered near their recent lows, with the two-year Treasury yield last at 4.7245%, having earlier in December hit a nearly six-month trough of 4.5400%.

The benchmark 10-year yield steadied at 4.2006%, near its lowest in three months. [US/]

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar was on the defensive and stood at $1.2558 on the British pound.

British wage growth slowed by the most in almost two years, data on Tuesday showed, though pay was likely still rising too fast for the Bank of England to relax its tough stance against cutting interest rates.

The greenback meanwhile last bought 145.48 yen.

While investors look for signs of rate cuts next year across major central banks, over in Japan, many are betting for the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to shift away from its ultra-loose monetary policy.

"We expect the BOJ to stay steady at the December meeting," said analysts at Maybank in a note.

"We still think they will only exit (negative interest rate policy) and (yield curve control) in Q2 2024 after a strong spring wage negotiations' result."

In commodity markets, gold was kept pinned near a three-week low and was last at $1,980.79 an ounce.

(Reporting by Rae Wee. Editing by Sam Holmes)

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