HONG KONG: Most stock markets retreated in Asian trade on Wednesday (Mar 15) following losses on Wall Street and in Europe as nervous investors await the end of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting, while oil prices bounced back from the previous day's sharp losses.
The US central bank is all but certain to announce an interest rate hike later in the day but traders are mostly interested in what its plans are for future increases, with Fed boss Janet Yellen's news conference in focus.
However, with a slew of strong US data in recent months having already been baked into prices, a global market has eased up in March, dented by concerns about Donald Trump's lack of movement on his promises to ramp up infrastructure spending and cut taxes.
Tokyo closed down 0.2 per cent with the dollar unable to break above the ¥115 level breached briefly last week, while Toshiba plunged more than 12 per cent with fears growing about its future as it struggles to deal with massive losses and accounting fraud allegations at its US nuclear unit.
Hong Kong gave up 0.2 per cent and Singapore was 0.2 per cent off while Seoul was marginally lower. Taipei, Wellington and Manila were down but Sydney ended up 0.3 per cent and Shanghai put on 0.1 per cent.
"It's all about the US Fed this week and the market is convinced we will see a rate hike," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader in a note.
"And it will be the language Janet Yellen uses in the statement, the dot-plot of expected moves in the next year and Yellen's press conference which will be the big movers. My sense is that the Fed will signal at least another two hikes this year and another three to four in 2018."
Energy firms fell despite a rebound in oil prices from Tuesday's sharp losses.
Both crude contracts lost more than one percent after data emerged showing key producer Saudi Arabia increased production last month, raising questions about the OPEC cartel's reduction commitment, just as US shale output expands.
However, prices recovered on news from a private firm showing US stockpiles had seen a surprise drop last week, compared with forecasts for a big increase. Brent was up 1.7 per cent in Asia on Wednesday while West Texas Intermediate gained 1.4 per cent.
On currency markets the pound edged up after hitting an eight-week low in New York as Britain prepares to trigger its exit from the European Union. The euro was edged up but is struggling as investors nervously await a general election in the Netherlands, with a far-right, anti-EU party in second place.
In early European trade London added 0.2 per cent while Paris and Frankfurt each rose 0.1 per cent.
KEY FIGURES AROUND 0800 GMT
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 per cent at 19,577.38 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.2 per cent at 23,792.85 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 per cent at 3,241.76 (close)
London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 per cent at 7,370.71
Euro/dollar: UP at US$1.0636 from US$1.0604
Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.2217 from US$1.2151
Dollar/yen: UP at ¥114.70 from ¥114.77
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 78 cents at US$48.50 per barrel
Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 70 cents at US$51.62 per barrel
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.2 per cent at 20,837.37 (close)