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Stocks retreat, track Asian markets

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Philippine stocks retreated Wednesday, tracking the movement of most Asian markets as investors turned cautious ahead of the release of latest inflation data from the United States.

The bellwether Philippine Stock Exchange index declined by 72.41 points, or 1.09 percent, to close at 6,546.11, while the broader all-shares index dropped 34.04 points, or 0.97 percent, to settle at 3,469.64.

“Philippine equities followed the sentiment of US markets, which closed lower as many await the latest inflation print,” Regina Capital Development Corp. head of sales Luis Limlingan said.

“Analysts and fund managers will shift their focus to the US consumer price inflation report that is expected to show headline inflation rose 0.2 percent in December and 3.2 percent on an annual basis given the slight uptick in fuel and heating prices,” he said.

Market participation improved, as total value turnover reached P5.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Asian markets on Wednesday resumed the losses that have characterized the year so far, following a tepid lead from Wall Street as traders prepare for the release of key inflation data and start of earnings season.

A nervousness has swept through trading floors in the past week as investors grow concerned that they may have been too hasty at the end of 2023 in pricing in a series of Federal Reserve interest rate cuts this year.

The bank said at its December meeting that it saw three reductions over the next 12 months but a string of data showing inflation tumbling and the economy slowing saw markets factor twice as many — sending stocks soaring.

But the release last week of minutes from that meeting, and a forecast-beating jobs report forced dealers to re-evaluate their positions.

Analysts said consumer price index data this week will be crucial to how markets perform in the near term, with a miss on the upside seen fueling another sell-off.

Traders had ended last year optimistic that the Fed would cut rates for the first time in March but bets on that have fallen on swaps markets, while some analysts are now predicting the first to come in June.

Also coming up is the beginning of US earnings season later in the month, which could provide some idea about how companies are faring in the high-rate environment.

“Attention gradually shifts to the upcoming earnings season to gain insights into companies’ growth trajectories,” said Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management.

“Mega-cap technology firms… are under close scrutiny due to their significant influence and substantial weight in the S&P 500.’’

“Investors are keen to discern whether recent declines are justified or whether companies’ profits remain robust enough to revive the end-of-year rally.”

The S&P 500 and Dow ended lower, though the Nasdaq eked out a small gain, with sentiment also dampened by the World Bank decision to cut its 2024 global growth outlook, due in part to weaker activity in the United States and China.

Asia performed hardly any better, having enjoyed a much-needed bounce on Tuesday.

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Manila, Mumbai, Wellington and Bangkok all fell.

Tokyo extended gains to hit a fresh 34-year high, boosted by a slowdown in wage growth that observers said would make it harder for the Bank of Japan to shift away from its ultra-loose monetary policy.

That, along with the Fed rate outlook, weighed on the yen.

“With the market’s expectation of an early Fed rate cut receding after the start of the new year, Japanese stocks remained firm on the back of expectations that the yen’s depreciation against the dollar will support corporate earnings,” said JPMorgan’s Rie Nishihara.

London and Paris fell at the open, while Frankfurt as flat.

Bitcoin was slightly lower after whipsawing Tuesday following an unauthorized message posted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s official X account saying it had approved the bitcoin exchange traded funds.

The message sent the cryptocurrency to a 22-month high near $48,000 but it sank back after SEC chair Gary Gensler took to his own X account to warn that the market account had been “compromised” and that an “unauthorized tweet” had been posted.

It was sitting around $45,800 Wednesday.

Traders have been speculating for weeks that the SEC would give the green light to the product, which would, for the first time, offer investors a fund that replicates the performance of bitcoin without them having to hold the unit directly. With AFP

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