HONG KONG: Asian markets mostly drifted lower on Friday while the dollar dipped, as investors waited on a speech later in the global day by Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen.
With few catalysts to drive business this week, Yellen’s talk at the annual Jackson Hole symposium of global central bankers has hung over exchanges as traders hope for clues about the US economy and guidance on monetary policy.
Speculation has grown that the bank could lift interest rates as early as next month, although most experts say that is unlikely and that December or February would be safer bets.
“As is the case with most Fed speaking engagements, it will mainly involve deciphering verbal gymnastics while looking for a smoking gun,” Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, said in a note.
“Traders will look for Dr Yellen’s views on shifting global and domestic economic landscapes as well as the all-important cost benefit of maintaining the status quo.”
With an interest rate hike unlikely in the immediate future, the dollar is struggling to gain traction. In early trade the greenback was at 100.45 yen compared with 100.55 yen in New York late Thursday, while the euro edged up to $1.1298 from $1.1281.
The dollar also fell against most other higher-yielding currencies such as the Australian dollar, South Korean won, Indonesian rupiah and Malaysian ringgit.
Equity traders were on edge, with Japan’s Nikkei falling 1.2 percent, after another below-par inflation reading added to pressure on authorities to act on the economy as years of stimulus fail to have any serious effect on growth.
Sydney lost 0.5 percent and Seoul finished 0.3 percent off, while Wellington and Manila each shed 0.5 percent.
However, Hong Kong added 0.4 percent and Shanghai gained 0.1 percent.
In early European trade London slipped 0.1 percent, while Frankfurt and Paris lost 0.2 percent.
“You can’t take on risk ahead of important events,” like Yellen’s speech, Takashi Ito, a Tokyo-based equity strategist at Nomura Securities, told Bloomberg News.
“If (Yellen) does make more hawkish comments the market could be chaotic in the short term,” he added.
On crude markets both main contracts edged down slightly having enjoyed healthy gains on Thursday after Iran’s oil minister said the country would attend a meeting of OPEC and Russian officials to discuss a global oversupply crisis.
West Texas Intermediate eased 0.3 percent to $47.20 and Brent lost 0.5 percent to $49.42.
The news came a day after Tehran poured water on reports it would go to the talks in Algeria, sending prices plunging.