Asian markets mostly edged up Thursday after the Federal Reserve pledged to provide as much support as necessary to back up the US economy but trader sentiment remained clouded by a fresh wave of virus infections that threatens to throw any global recovery off track.
While the central bank did not unveil any new measures and broadly met expectations, analysts said it instilled some much-needed confidence that the Fed had their back.
Bank boss Jerome Powell said the Fed had noted the spike in new US cases was denting economic activity and warned the downturn was “the most severe of our lifetimes”, while adding that recovery depended on staunching the virus so Americans could go out and spend again.
The policy board repeated its intention to hold rates near zero “until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals”.
Observers said focus now turns to the next policy meeting in September, which could see more measures unveiled.
That was enough to give a boost to equities, which have been struggling in recent weeks on concerns about the spread of COVID-19 around the world and containment measures that have been reintroduced in some countries.
Wall Street’s three main indexes saw healthy gains, which were followed by Asia.
Hong Kong edged up 0.3 percent, Sydney rose 0.7 percent and Tokyo went into the break 0.1 percent higher, while Shanghai was flat.
Taipei, Seoul, Wellington and Bangkok were also higher, though there were losses in Singapore, Jakarta and Manila.
– Washington struggles –
“It wasn’t exactly the most riveting (policy meeting) of recent times after the Fed let the cat out of the bag late Tuesday pledging to extend its emergency programmes,” said Stephen Innes at AxiCorp.
But the meeting “still managed to dot I’s and cross the T’s and out-dove even the market’s most dovish expectations”, he added.
“Investors liked what they heard from Chair Powell. This is a Fed that appears to feel the pulse of the economy, even despite the meeting coming in line with expectations and offering no new policy announcements.”
But, while traders have a mountain of cash from governments and central banks around the world backing them up, the disease continues to dominate as the US reached 150,000 deaths and Australia’s state of Victoria recorded a record number of new infections.
The grim readings highlight the overriding need for a vaccine.
There is also a worry Powell’s calls for more government aid to help the economy might not be heeded by lawmakers in Washington, who remain poles apart as they try to hammer out a new stimulus.
Republicans are still divided over their own $1 trillion proposal and Democrats — whose plan is three times bigger — have resisted moves for a piecemeal package, which has been suggested by Donald Trump.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the two sides were “nowhere close to a deal”.
The prospect of US interest rates being kept at zero for an extended amount of time put further pressure on the dollar, which hit a two-year low against the euro, though it managed to claw back slightly in Asian business.
However, analysts say it could face further selling later in the day if US economic growth comes in worse than the 35 percent contraction forecast for the second quarter, with gold also tipped to test the $2,000 mark.
– Key figures around 0245 GMT –
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 22,408.29 (break)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.3 percent at 24,961.03
Shanghai – Composite: FLAT at 3,295.21
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1775 from $1.1794 at 2100 GMT
Dollar/yen: UP at 105.07 yen from 104.93 yen
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2983 from $1.2993
Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.70 pence from 90.76 pence
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.1 percent at $41.22 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.1 percent at $43.70 per barrel
New York – Dow: UP 0.6 percent at 26,539.57 (close)
London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 6,131.46 (close)