Asian stocks hold gains as markets await Powell speech

Asian shares held onto their recent gains on Wednesday after last week’s pummelling, as global equities rebounded, though the focus for most asset classes was the U.S. Federal Reserve’s annual symposium on Friday.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan spent most of the day near flat, but was last up 0.34%, and about 4% higher so far this week.

Australia’s market (.AXJO) rose 0.22% and South Korea (.KS11) gained 0.16%, though Chinese blue chips fell 0.07%, and U.S. stock futures, the S&P 500 e-minis , were down 0.02%.

In early European trades, the pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures and FTSE futures were both up 0.04%

Japan’s Nikkei (.N225) was also flat, but a Reuters poll of analysts and fund managers showed Japanese shares are expected to recover from their eight-month low marked on Friday to near a 30-year high by the end of this year.

“Sentiment (is) positive but vulnerable to shifts ahead of the Jackson Hole conference which features Fed Chair Powell on Friday,” said Rob Carnell, ING head of Asia research in a note.

“Part of the sentiment improvement may lie with recent thoughts that this weekend’s conference will not deliver any further insight into the timing of any Fed taper.”

This marks a change from last week, when MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan index fell to its lowest in 2021, spooked by a combination of fears about slowing growth in Asia amid outbreaks of the Delta variant of the new coronavirus, and worries the Fed might to begin shrinking its monetary stimulus sooner rather than later.

Chinese regulatory crackdowns that have roiled sectors from technology to property, also weighed on shares in Hong Kong and mainland China, dragging on the broader Asian index.

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong benchmark (.HSI) fell 0.16% after posting its best day in a month the day before.

The Hang Seng TECH Index (.HSTECH), which reached its all time low last week amid worries about the regulatory crackdowns, gained 0.4%, building cautiously on this week’s strong gains as investors piled into oversold stocks.

“It’s been a fairly obvious trade to go back to neutral particularly on stocks that have been oversold,” said Rob Mumford, a Hong Kong based investment manager at GAM Investments.

“How it progresses from here, I don’t think is as much about China and Asia but what the U.S. does. If it’s a benign scenario out of Jackson Hole I think you’ll definitely see China mean revert,” he said.

The focus remains squarely on Chair Jerome Powell’s remarks at the event for any clues regarding the timeline for Fed’s tapering of asset purchases, an issue that has buffeted financial markets in recent months.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes was last 1.2919% little changed from their US close of U.S. close of 1.29%, having touched as much as 1.304% earlier in the session.

The dollar gained a little ground in Asian trading on Wednesday but was still not far above a one-week low versus major peers on Wednesday.

“If Powell speaks about the policy outlook and more specifically, hints at the time and/or pace of tapering, the USD could get a boost in our view,” wrote analysts at CBA in a note.

“In the meantime, the USD will remain guided by broader market mood.”

U.S. crude dipped 0.28% to $67.36 a barrel, while Brent crude fell 0.15% to $70.94 per barrel – both are up around 8% on the week, however, after posting their biggest weekly decline in more than nine months last week.

Safe haven gold fell in tandem with the broad increase in risk appetite, with the spot price dropping 0.35% to $1,796.03 per ounce.