HONG KONG, Dec 18 . Asian markets mostly fell Tuesday following a sharp retreat on Wall Street fuelled by increasing worries about the global economy, while investors await the Federal Reserve policy meeting this week.
A much-anticipated speech by President Xi Jinping left investors disappointed as they had been hoping for comments about stimulus or even clues about possible reforms to China’s economy and plans for the next year.
After a broadly upbeat start to the week, regional equities were brought back down to Earth with a bump Tuesday, with all three main indexes in New York tanking following the release of well-below-par economic data.
Dealers across the world have taken fright over a range of issues, including the China-US trade war, falling oil prices, Brexit, political uncertainty, China’s stuttering economy and geopolitical tensions.
Also weighing on confidence has been the Fed’s monetary tightening drive that has seen it lift interest rates through the year, making it more expensive for traders to borrow cash for investment.
The central bank concludes its latest policy meeting Wednesday and is widely expected to announce another hike, but comments afterwards by its boss Jerome Powell will be pored over, with many hoping he flags a slower pace of increases in 2019.
“There is panic in markets that the global economy is falling down a cliff and all growth-sensitive assets are in free-fall,” Bernd Berg, a strategist at Woodman Asset Management, said.
“All eyes are now on… Powell with pressure on the Fed mounting to provide a lifeline to stem the global market rout.” Donald Trump on Monday once again hit out at the bank’s policy and called on it not to lift rates again.
Adding to nervousness on trading floors is the prospect of a US government shutdown as the president and congressional leaders bicker over funding for his Mexican border wall. Several departments are expected to close if a deal is not agreed by the weekend, with both sides digging in their positions.
– Xi disappoints –
Shanghai ended down 0.8 percent and Tokyo dived 1.8 percent, while Hong Kong was 1.1 percent down.
Sydney dropped 1.2 percent and Singapore dived 1.8 percent while Seoul gave up 0.4 percent. Wellington and Taipei retreated 0.7 percent each, while Jakarta and Manila sank more than one percent. In early European trade, London fell 0.4 percent, Frankfurt gave up 0.3 percent and Paris fell 0.6 percent.
“It’s an extremely bearish environment and while expectations are for a dovish hike from the Fed — and for the central bank to temporarily pause its rate hike cycle at the beginning of 2019 — the markets aren’t taking any solace” in that, said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA.
“A chorus of ‘no rate hike’ for December is echoing loudly but likely falling on deaf ears.”
Xi gave a speech to mark 40 years since China began opening up but gave nothing away on the policy front — despite a slew of weak data this year — instead opting to warn that no one can “dictate” the country’s economic development, with an eye on the US trade war.
“Without question, he disappointed markets,” said Innes. “The speech was little more than a history lesson with no new reforms or stimulus measures offered up. And will do little to calm investor jitters.”
Leaders are now said to begin an annual conference on mapping out the country’s economic path for 2019, with reports saying they could unveil massive tax cuts.
Oil prices fell more than 1.5 percent to extend Monday’s losses on lingering concerns about a global supply glut after a closely watched data provider said US inventories had grown.
There are also questions about the impact of a recently promised output cut by OPEC and other top producers including Russia.
“There’s always a question mark over to what extent the OPEC countries and Russia will or will not fulfil their promises,” Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates, told Bloomberg News. “There is naturally some scepticism.” Crude prices have fallen about a third from four-year highs touched at the start of October.
– Key figures around 0820 GMT –
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.8 percent at 21,115.45 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.1 percent at 25,814.25 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.8 percent at 2,576.65 (close)
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4 percent at 6,744.22
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1350 from $1.1362
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 112.57 yen from 112.83 yen
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2638 from $1.2613 at 2200 GMT
Oil – West Texas Intermediate DOWN 87 cents at $49.01 per barrel
Oil – Brent Crude: DOWN $1.03 at $58.58 per barrel
New York – Dow: DOWN 2.1 percent at 23,592.98 (close)
— Bloomberg News contributed to this story —