The National Times - Stocks waver as investors brace for US Fed tightening

Stocks waver as investors brace for US Fed tightening

Stocks waver as investors brace for US Fed tightening
Stocks waver as investors brace for US Fed tightening

US and European stocks fluctuated Thursday after minutes from central banks showed US policymakers ready to aggressively wind back easy-money policies while their eurozone counterparts disagreed over their own way forward.

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Eurozone stock markets were higher in afternoon deals but London's FTSE 100 ticked lower. Wall Street was mixed in early trading, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq up while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 were lower.

Oil prices, meanwhile, pared some of the previous day's heavy losses that had been triggered by concerns about weaker demand because of economic slowdown.

Minutes showed the Fed in March opted to raise US borrowing costs rates by a quarter percentage point, mindful of "greater near-term uncertainty associated with Russia's invasion of Ukraine".

But some policymakers had favoured lifting rates even higher, by half a percentage point, to rein in decades-high inflation which is threatening to derail the economic recovery.

"The stock market, as well as the Treasury market, looks as if it is struggling to figure out the future and how it will be shaped by the Fed's hawkish-minded shift in setting monetary policy," analyst Patrick O'Hare said.

But the analyst added that the stock market "intuitively knows the near future is going to be a future with lower growth".

- Inflation fight -

At their own meeting last month, European Central Bank policymakers disagreed on how to respond to runaway inflation and economic uncertainty caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, minutes indicated Thursday.

"A large number of members held the view that the current high level of inflation and its persistence called for immediate further steps towards monetary policy normalisation," the minutes read.

The ECB's governing council played it safe at the March meeting, agreeing to wind down monthly bond purchases at an accelerated pace in the second quarter, while keeping the end date of the stimulus scheme flexible.

An interest rate hike would follow "some time" after the end of the bond-buying scheme, it said.

But the minutes revealed that some governors wanted to go further to combat inflation, as the war in Ukraine further pushes up prices for energy, food and raw materials.

The prospect of rates rising at a quicker pace over the coming months has added to a wave of uncertainty across trading floors.

Central banks across the world are under fierce pressure to tackle runaway inflation, which has soared further on a Ukraine-driven spike in commodities like gas, oil and wheat.

March was the first Fed hike since it slashed US rates to zero when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out two years ago.

While current US data points to a healthy economy, commentators warn of possible hard times ahead.

- Key figures around 1330 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,574.45 points

Frankfurt - DAX: UP 0.3 percent at 14,207.16

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.2 percent at 6,516.46

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.3 percent at 3,838.24

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.9 percent at 34,368.29

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.7 percent at 26,888.57 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.2 percent at 21,808.98 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.4 percent at 3,236.70 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.0 percent at $102.11 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.2 percent at $97.44 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0934 from $1.0896 late Wednesday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3082 from $1.3069

Euro/pound: UP at 83.57 pence from 83.37 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 123.90 yen from 123.80 yen