Asia stocks decline amid worries over US rate hikes, Russia

Asian stocks followed Wall Street lower Wednesday after a Federal Reserve official’s comments fueled expectations of more aggressive interest US rate hikes and the White House announced more sanctions on Russia.

Market benchmarks in Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney retreated.

Wall Street’s S&P 500 index tumbled 1.3% after Fed Governor Lael Brainard said reining in inflation that is at a four-decade high is of “paramount importance.” Brainard said the Fed is set to keep raising rates after its March hike, its first in four years, and might decide at its May meeting to reduce bond holdings “at a rapid pace.”

The White House said Western governments will ban new investmen t in Russia following evidence its soldiers deliberately killed civilians in Ukraine. The US Treasury said President Vladimir Putin’s government will be blocked from paying debts with dollars from American financial institutions, potentially increasing the risk of a default.

European governments have resisted appeals to boycott Russian gas, Putin’s biggest export earner, due to the possible impact on their economies.

However, the EU’s executive branch has proposed a ban on coal imports from Russia in the first sanction of its energy industry by the 27-nation bloc. The coal imports amount to an estimated 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) per year.

“It’s hard to be particularly optimistic” about the war, “but we live in hope,” said Craig Orlam of Oanda in a report. “And it seems investors do too” despite inflation, rate hikes and high commodity prices.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.2% to 3,275.45 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo sank 1.7% to 27,308.86. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 1.4% to 22,181.86.

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The Kospi in Seoul declined 0.8% to 2,736.36 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 lost 0.6% to 7,483.50.

India’s Sensex opened down 0.5% at 3,426.24. New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets also retreated.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 sank to 4,525.12 for its first loss in three days.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.8% to 34,641.18, The Nasdaq composite slid 2.3% to 4,525.12.

Weakness from big technology stocks weighed down the broader market. Chipmaker Qualcomm fell 5.4%.

Traders are pricing in a nearly 78% probability the Fed will raise its key rate by half a percentage point at its next meeting in May. That would be double the usual margin of change and a step the Fed hasn’t taken since 2000.

Higher interest rates tend to hurt stocks that are seen as the priciest, which puts the focus on big technology and other high-growth stocks. Apple and Tesla were some of the biggest weights on the market.

Wall Street is watching for clues as to how sharply interest rates will rise. On Wednesday, the Fed is due to release minutes from its March interest rate meeting.

Twitter rose another 2% after disclosing an arrangement with Tesla chief Elon Musk that will give him a board seat but also limit how much of the company he can buy while he’s a director. The company disclosed a day earlier that the billionaire Twitter critic had become its largest shareholder.

Benchmark US oil lost 4 cents to $101.92 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.32 on Tuesday to $101.96. Brent crude, the price basis for international oil trading, added 30 cents to $106.94 per barrel in London. It declined 89 cents the previous session to $106.64.

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The dollar rose to 123.85 yen from Tuesday’s 123.61 yen. The euro edged down to $1.0898 from $1.0905.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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