HONG KONG: Asia stocks were broadly up Monday after comments from Federal Reserve boss Janet Yellen that suggested a US interest rate hike was looming.
Speaking at Harvard University Friday, Yellen said she believed growth and the strengthening of the labor market would continue, and in that case, “probably in the coming months such a move would be appropriate.”
That time-frame, which other Fed policymakers have also referred to in recent weeks, would put the Fed’s action at its June 14-15 or July 26-27 meeting.
Traders appeared to react positively to the news Monday with stocks flat or slightly higher after a positive lead from Europe and on Wall Street.
The US central bank has repeatedly stated its intention to continue raising rates this year after December’s first hike in nine years.
“Janet Yellen’s remarks on Friday confirm that at least one increase in the Fed rate is likely this year. Traders will take confidence from the fact that stock markets are firm in the face of this confirmation,” Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in an email commentary.
“As far as the markets are concerned, the timing of the next Fed increase now becomes the central issue. Another increase in the near future will increase the possibility of a second increase in US rates before the end of the year.”
Tokyo led the gains in Asia, rising 0.9 percent by the break after the dollar powered higher against the yen on the news, boosting Japanese exporters as a weaker currency inflates the value of their overseas profits.
Hong Kong rose 0.5 percent, while Shanghai, Sydney and Seoul were flat. Jakarta and Taipei gained 0.6 and 0.4 percent respectively.
“There has been a deliberate move on the part of the Fed to steer the market toward prospects of near-term tightening,” Philip Borkin, a senior economist in Auckland at ANZ Bank New Zealand Ltd., said in a client note, according to Bloomberg News.
“The Fed will probably be reasonably chuffed at the way the market is absorbing that message.”
Hopes of Japan tax hike delay
Tokyo also got a lift on hopes the government would delay a consumption tax hike scheduled for April next year.
Media reports over the weekend said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had told his close aides, including Finance Minister Taro Aso, that he intends to push back the increase to October 2019 on fears it could damage the already fragile economy.
Tokyo had planned to raise the sales tax from eight percent to 10 percent to help pay down one of the biggest debt loads among rich nations.
Oil prices remained below $50 a barrel Monday, with crude dipping 11 cents to $49.21 while US benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell one cent to $49.32 a barrel.
Traders are now looking to the June 2 meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, where it is hoped a deal on reducing production can be reached.
Prices had topped $50 a barrel — a key psychological level — for the first time this year on Thursday after production disruptions in Canada, as well as unrest in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest crude producer.
On Sunday Canadian petroleum producer Suncor said production in Canada’s fire-ravaged oil sands area was coming back online and thousands of workers were returning to their jobs.
The work stoppage at oil facilities in the region reduced Canada’s total output by an estimated 1.2 million barrels per day, hitting US crude inventories.
Key figures around 0315 GMT
Tokyo: Nikkei 225: UP 0.9 percent at 16,985.20 (break)
Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.04 percent at 2,822.151
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.5 percent at 20,671.46
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1102 from $1.1113 on Friday
Dollar/yen: UP at 110.97 yen from 110.37 yen
New York – Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 17,873.22 (close)
London – FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 6,270.79 (close)