Asian stocks higher ahead of Fed rate decision

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were higher Wednesday after Wall Street rose ahead of what traders hope will be the last Federal Reserve interest rate hike for some time.

U.S. futures edged lower, while oil prices gained.

Traders assume the Fed will announce a rate hike of 0.25 percentage points but hope that will be the last for some time after data Tuesday showed U.S. wage growth slowed in late 2022. They worry U.S. and European rate hikes to cool inflation might tip the global economy into recession.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index gained 1.5% after traders took the wage data as a sign the U.S. central bank might think its efforts to slow economic activity are taking effect.

Investors will watch how the Fed describes its decision and chair Jerome Powell’s comments at a planned news conference for signs of whether the U.S. central bank will ease off plans for more rate hikes, said Anderson Alves of ActivTrades in a report.

“”A hawkish decision could put strong pressure on all asset classes,” Alves said, while a more dovish outlook could “prompt expectations that the Fed could start cutting rates again in the last quarter of this year.”

The Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.1% to 3,258.93 after two surveys showed Chinese factory activity increased in January but still is subdued amid weak global demand and COVID-19 outbreaks that disrupted business.

The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo advanced 0.2% to 27,376.22 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 0.5% to 21,941.96.

The Kospi in Seoul rose 0.8% to 2,444.16 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 was 0.5% higher at 7,512.10.

Singapore declined while New Zealand and other Southeast Asian markets rose.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 advanced to 4,076.60 to end January with its third monthly gain in the past four months.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.1% to 34,086.04. The Nasdaq rose 1.7% to 11,584.55.

Traders expect a Fed rate hike of 0.25 percentage points, its smallest margin of increase since March after three jumps of 0.75 points and then one of 0.5 points.

Investors are hoping the Fed declares victory and rolls back its rate increases starting later this year despite repeated warnings by central bank officials that the cost of borrowing could stay elevated for an extended period.

Other data announced Tuesday showed consumer confidence and a separate measure of business activity in the Midwest both were weaker than expected.

The latest round of corporate profit reports have been mixed.

McDonald’s fell 1.3% despite reporting stronger profit and revenue than expected, suggesting investors might be uneasy about upcoming profit margins as the economy cools.

Caterpillar dropped 3.5% after it reported weaker profit than expected but stronger revenue.

General Motors 8.3% after reporting stronger profit and revenue than expected.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rose 29 cents to $79.16 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 97 cents to $78.87 on Tuesday. Brent crude, the price basis for international oil trading, advanced 19 cents to $85.65 per barrel in London. It fell 41 cents the previous session to $84.49.

The dollar fell to 130.04 yen from Tuesday’s 130.21 yen. The euro declined to $1.0859 from $1.0865.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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