Asian shares mostly retreated on Wednesday, echoing a broad decline on Wall Street and driven by worries about how the war in Ukraine may push prices for oil and other commodities higher.
Tokyo’s benchmark fell after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced measures to help poor families and small businesses as Japan copes with rising prices and a weakening currency.
The Nikkei 225 dropped 1.2% in afternoon trading to 26,375.56.
The Bank of Japan is holding a two-day policy board meeting. The central bank has sent a clear message about keeping interest rates ultra-low to help encourage spending and investment and has bought Japanese government bonds periodically, aiming to keep 10-year-bond yields within a range of plus or minus 0.25%.
Elsewhere in the region, South Korea’s Kospi slipped 1.4% to 2,632.27. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.9% to 7,253.00. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng recouped earlier losses and gained 0.5% to 20,036.47, while the Shanghai Composite index jumped 1.9% to 2,941.44.
Worries over restrictions on movement and business activity in Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities to combat a rise in coronavirus cases are weighing on investor sentiment.
So are the ramifications of the war in Ukraine, which apart from the risks of broader conflict has pushed already inflated prices for many commodities and goods still higher, complicating the economic outlook and posing hardships for many businesses and consumers.
“After seemingly taking more of a backseat with the onset of earnings season, renewed tensions in the Ukraine-Russia conflict serves as a reminder that geopolitical risk is far from over,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market strategist with IG in Singapore.
On Tuesday, U.S. benchmarks were weighed down by sharp declines in Big Tech stocks that took the Nasdaq to its worst drop since September 2020. The S&P 500 fell 2.8% to 4,175.20. The benchmark index closed the day with 95% of its stocks losing ground. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 2.4% to 33,240.18.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq bore the brunt of the day’s losses. It tumbled 4%, to 12,490.74, its worst drop since Sept. 8, 2020. The index is now down 20% this year as investors shun the ultra-pricey tech sector, which made gangbuster gains for much of the pandemic.
With the Federal Reserve set to aggressively raise interest rates as it steps up its fight against inflation, traders are less and less willing to endure the lofty prices they had been paying for Microsoft, Facebook’s parent company Meta, and other tech giants.
Microsoft fell 3.7%. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, fell 3.6% in regular trading and lost another 6% in after-hours trading after reporting results that fell short of analysts’ estimates.
More big technology companies are on deck to report earnings this week, including Meta on Wednesday, and Apple on Thursday.
Tesla slumped 12.2% over concerns that CEO Elon Musk will be distracted and less engaged in running the electric vehicle maker as he buys social media company Twitter, which fell 3.9%.
Retailers and other companies that rely on direct consumer spending also fell broadly. General Motors fell 4.5% while Nike slipped 5.8%.
General Electric fell 10.3% for one of the sharpest losses in the market after telling investors that inflation and other pressures are weighing on its profit forecast for the year.
Bond yields fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.73% from 2.82% late Monday.
Energy companies eked out a gain, the only one of the 11 sectors in the S&P 500 to do so.
In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude added 17 cents to US$101.87 a barrel. The price of benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 3.2% Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 42 cents to $105.41 a barrel.
After rallying the second half of March, U.S. stocks have been on shaky ground in April. The S&P 500 has fallen for three straight weeks.
“It’s the market getting a little more comfortable with a slowdown at best and recessionary fears at worst,” said Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Baird.
Earnings for industrial and retail companies are a key focus for the rest of the week. Airplane maker Boeing reports its results on Wednesday. Industrial bellwether Caterpillar announces earnings on Thursday, along with McDonald’s and Amazon.
In economics news, the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence weakened slightly in April but remains high. And on Friday the Commerce Department releases its personal income and spending report for March.
Economists and investors are concerned that the U.S. economy might slow sharply or even fall into a recession because of the big interest-rate increases the Fed is expected to push through.
In currency trading, the U.S. dollar edged up to 127.62 Japanese yen from 127.23 yen The euro cost $1.0656, up from $1.0639.