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Asia tracks Wall St rally as Fed decision replaces bank worries
  • | AFP | March 22, 2023 03:25 PM
Asia extended a global equities rally Wednesday as more pledges of government support soothed worries over the banking sector and provided some much-needed stability after more than a week of upheaval.

The dialling down of volatility allowed traders to turn their focus on the US Federal Reserve's policy decision later in the day, with the recent turmoil fuelling hope it will hold off on an expected sharp hike in interest rates.

With the recent crisis blamed on the central bank's steep hike in borrowing costs over the past year, pressure is building on officials to pause their monetary tightening campaign, with many observers even tipping several cuts by the end of the year.

While that would deal a blow to the Fed's fight against elevated inflation, such a move is seen by observers as crucial to reinforcing stability and preventing another blow-up in the financial sector.

US and European markets surged at least one percent Tuesday, building on Monday's advances, as investors cheered comments from US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reiterating support for lenders after the collapse of two regional banks earlier this month.

The downing of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank forced authorities to promise customers would not lose their cash in a bid to prevent a run on other firms.

"Our intervention was necessary to protect the broader US banking system, and similar actions could be warranted if smaller institutions suffer deposit runs that pose the risk of contagion," Yellen told an American Bankers Association conference in Washington.

She added that the government was "resolutely committed" to ensuring stability and that "the public should have confidence in our banking system".

OANDA's Edward Moya said in a note: "It is a clear message from multiple officials that they are not taking this banking turmoil lightly and that they will probably be proactive when the next major risk arises."

- 'Fear index' drops -

The US and European rally filtered through to Asia, where banks were among the big gainers with tech firms.

Hong Kong led the way, rising close to two percent thanks to a bump in lenders HSBC and Standard Chartered as well as e-commerce titans Alibaba and

Tokyo was up a similar amount as investors returned from a public holiday, while Seoul, Singapore, Sydney and Taipei were up by more than one percent.

Shanghai, Wellington, Mumbai, Bangkok and Manila also rose.

National Australia Bank's Rodrigo Catril said: "The reassurances and stability measures provided by authorities in recent days appear to be having an enduring positive effect."

He pointed to the biggest two-day plunge this year in the VIX "fear index".

"Markets are seemingly becoming more comfortable with the idea that authorities have probably done enough to prevent a systemic banking crisis. The improvement in risk appetite has also triggered a repricing of Fed and (European Central Bank) rate hike expectations."

Eyes are now on the Fed's rate decision later in the day, with analysts split over whether it will announce a 25 basis-point hike or pause in order to ease pressure on the banking system.

With the Fed's game plan jolted by the recent turmoil, City Index's Matt Simpson said the post-meeting news conference "could be the icing on the cake, as it is an opportunity for (Fed boss) Jerome Powell to finetune the message and reshape market expectations".

"It is not uncommon to see markets reverse their direction at the press conference, and a key thing to look out for is how his tone compares to his recent testimony, which was very hawkish indeed."

There was little movement in currency markets as traders bide their time ahead of the Fed decision, though the yen, sterling and euro held their recent gains against the dollar owing to the repricing of the US rates outlook.

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