Asian shares slip as investors gauge China reopening policy

SINGAPORE: Asian equities were subdued on Wednesday (Dec 28), while the dollar held firm, with investors looking for direction after China took further steps towards reopening its COVID-battered economy.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slid 0.13 per cent, snapping a two-day winning streak and looking set to end the last month of the year in the red.

Japan’s Nikkei opened 0.5 per cent lower at the open, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index lost 0.43 per cent.

China stocks were set to open slightly lower, while the Hong Kong stock market opened 1 per cent higher, encouraged by China’s Monday announcement it would stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine starting from Jan 8.

A faster than anticipated peak of infection has stoked expectations that a quick economic recovery is on the cards.

Wall Street ended lower overnight as US Treasury yields pressured interest-rate-sensitive growth shares.

Investors have been trying to gauge how high the Federal Reserve will need to raise rates as it tightens policy in its continuing battle against inflation while also trying to avoid tilting the economy into recession.

The yield on 10-year Treasury notes was down 0.9 basis points at 3.849 per cent, hovering around the five-week high of 3.862 per cent it touched in the previous session.

The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond was down 2.3 basis points at 3.920 per cent, while the two-year U.S. Treasury yield, which typically moves in step with interest rate expectations, was down 1.9 basis points at 4.349 per cent.

Meanwhile, Bank of Japan policymakers discussed growing prospects that higher wages could finally eradicate the risk of a return to deflation, a summary of opinions at their December meeting showed on Wednesday.

At the Dec 19 to Dec 20 meeting, the BOJ kept its ultra-easy policy but stunned markets with a tweak to its bond yield control policy, allowing long-term interest rates to rise more.

While markets have had growing expectations that the Japanese central bank is likely to change its policy, investor focus will likely zero in on who will lead the BOJ when Governor Haruhiko Kuroda steps down in April.

“We think once the new governor is appointed, then the policy review will follow in the second quarter of 2023,” ING economist Min Joo Kang said. Another tweak in the yield curve control policy was possible in the first half of 2023, and ING expected a rate hike in late 2023 or early 2024, she said.

“The spring salary negotiation next year is the most important to watch for further meaningful policy change for the Bank of Japan.”

In the currency market, the Japanese yen weakened 0.25 per cent versus the greenback at 133.80 per dollar, with the euro down 0.08 per cent to US$1.063.

The dollar index, which measures the safe-haven greenback against six major currencies, rose 0.077 per cent.

U.S. crude rose 0.29 per cent to US$79.76 per barrel and Brent was at US$84.64, up 0.37 per cent on the day.