Asian shares track Wall St retreat on interest rate worries

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A woman walks past a bank's electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange Thursday, April 7, 2022. Asian shares tracked a retreat on Wall Street on Thursday after details from last months Federal Reserve meeting showed the central bank plans to be aggressive in fighting inflation. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

BEIJING – Asian shares tracked a retreat on Wall Street after details from last month’s Federal Reserve meeting showed the central bank plans to be aggressive in fighting inflation.

The Fed comments have added to investor unease over the war in Ukraine, coronavirus outbreaks in China and persistent high inflation.

Benchmarks fell Thursday in all major regional markets. U.S. futures fell while oil prices were higher.

The minutes from the meeting three weeks ago showed Fed policymakers agreed to begin cutting the central bank’s stockpile of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities by about $95 billion a month, starting in May. That’s more than some investors expected and nearly double the pace the last time the Fed shrank its balance sheet.

At the meeting, the Fed raised its benchmark short-term rate by a quarter percentage point, the first increase in three years. The minutes showed many Fed officials wanted to hike rates by an even bigger margin last month, and they still saw “one or more” such supersized increases potentially coming at future meetings.

Higher rates tend to reduce the price-to-earnings ratio of stocks, a key valuation barometer. Such a scenario can particularly hurt stocks that are seen as the priciest, which includes big technology companies.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index lost 1.5% to 26,933.04 while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 1% to 21,862.49. The Shanghai composite index shed 1.3% to 3,243.45. South Korea's Kospi declined 1.3% to 2,700.94 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gave up 0.7% to 7,440.30.

Overnight, the S&P 500 fell 1% to 4,481.15, adding to its losses from a day earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.4% to 34,496.51 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq lost 2.2% to 13,888.82.

Smaller company stocks also fell, sending the Russell 2000 index down 1.4% to 2,016.94.

Tech stocks were the biggest drag on the benchmark S&P 500. Apple fell 1.8% and Microsoft shed 3.7%.

Communications companies, retailers and others that rely on direct consumer spending also weighed heavily on the index. Amazon fell 3.2% and Facebook parent Meta fell 3.7%.

Investors are keenly focused on Fed policy as the central bank moves to reverse low interest rates and the extraordinary support it began providing for the economy two years ago when the pandemic knocked the economy into a recession.

A faster reduction in the Fed's balance sheet would help push up longer-term rates, but also raise borrowing costs for consumers and businesses.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.61% after the release of the minutes, up from 2.54% late Tuesday.

Early Thursday, the yield, which is used to set interest rates on mortgages and many other kinds of loans, was at 2.58%. It is at the highest levels it’s been in three years.

Traders are now pricing in a nearly 77% probability the Fed will raise its key overnight rate by half a percentage point at its next meeting in May. That’s double the usual amount and something the Fed hasn’t done since 2000.

Inflation is running at a four-decade high and threatens to crimp economic growth. Higher prices on everything from food to clothing have raised concerns that consumers will eventually pull back on spending. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has added to those worries, pushing energy and commodity prices, including wheat, even higher.

U.S. benchmark crude oil prices fell 5.6% Wednesday, but are more than 30% higher this year. That has pushed gasoline prices higher, putting more stress on shipping costs, prices for goods and consumers' wallets.

On Thursday, U.S. benchmark crude gained $1.56 to $97.79 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the standard for international pricing, jumped $1.83 to $102.90 per barrel.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned a House panel Wednesday that the conflict will have “enormous economic repercussions in Ukraine and beyond.”

Western governments plan to ban new investmen t in Russia following evidence its soldiers deliberately killed civilians in Ukraine. The U.S. Treasury said President Vladimir Putin's government will be blocked from paying debts with dollars from American financial institutions, potentially increasing the risk of a default.

European governments have resisted appeals to boycott Russian gas, Putin's biggest export earner, due to the possible impact on their economies.

The dollar fell to 123.70 Japanese yen from 123.81 yen. The euro rose to $1.0918 from $1.0985.