Asian markets mostly rise as Hong Kong reopens

Hong Kong led Asian markets higher as it returned from a three-day Lunar New Year break

Asian markets mostly rose Friday as a rally in Hong Kong on its first day back from a break helped overcome a sharp drop on Wall Street, though a surprisingly hawkish tilt from the European Central Bank added fuel to fears about the removal of pandemic-era stimulus.

All eyes are now on the release later in the day of US jobs data, which is often used as a guide for possible Federal Reserve policy decisions, before next week’s eagerly awaited inflation report.

With the jobs market well on the recovery track as the economy reopens, the central bank has said it feels it has enough room to begin raising interest rates from March to fight soaring inflation, which is sitting at a four-decade high.

However, while the outlook for growth remains upbeat, investors are having to recalibrate to adjust to the end of the era of cheap cash, which has helped fan a two-year rally that has pushed markets to record or multi-year highs.

Several Fed officials have come out recently to insist they will not put the recovery at risk in their tightening campaign, though debate on trading floors is rife about how much they will lift borrowing costs in March and how many more times they will do so this year.

Commentators say a strong reading on the jobs front Friday would revive talk of a more hawkish move in March with a 50 basis-point lift, as opposed to the 25 basis points usually announced.

The ECB’s apparent shift in its outlook towards lifting rates this year itself stunned investors Thursday.

Boss Christine Lagarde has for months said inflationary pressures would be temporary and dissipate as the world economy reopens and supply chains resume, allowing the bank to keep rates ultra-low this year.

But a record jump in prices last month and no sign of them easing has forced her to re-evaluate, saying the “situation had indeed changed”.

The news came as the Bank of England announced a second successive increase.

“The first half of this year we are now experiencing a rates shock,” Tracy Chen, of Brandywine Global Investment Management, told Bloomberg Television.

“If the Fed and BoE and other (emerging market) central banks are too aggressive in hiking interest rates, potentially we are going to face kind of a recession risk in the second half, or at least more slowdown in the economy.”

The ECB news jolted US markets, which were already owing to a rout in tech stocks that came after Meta’s sobering earnings report that sparked a 25 percent drop in its shares.

However, a blockbuster reading from Amazon, which saw it record sales of almost $140 billion in the holiday quarter soothed some of those concerns and provided some support to Asia on Friday.

Hong Kong led the way, rising more than two percent as investors in the city returned from a three-day Lunar New Year break. Seoul, Singapore, Manila and Jakarta were also up. Tokyo was flat while Sydney and Wellington dipped.

On oil markets, WTI held above the $90 mark it broke Thursday for the first time in seven years, as traders bet on continued improvement in demand thanks to the economic reopening, and with the United States being hit with a cold snap.

Lingering worries over Ukraine-Russia tensions were also playing a key role in the spike, with analysts predicting $100 could be breached soon.

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