World shares were mostly lower on Wednesday as investors waited for a decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve on interest rates.
Central banks in many countries are raising rates as inflation squeezes businesses and consumers. To counter that, regulators are gradually increasing costs for borrowing that had dipped to record lows during the pandemic.
Fed policymakers are expected to raise the U.S. central bank’s benchmark rate by twice the usual amount this week, ramping up their fight against inflation that is at a four-decade high. The Fed already has raised its key overnight rate once, the first such increase since 2018, and Wall Street is expecting several big increases over the coming months.
“All eyes are peering toward the FOMC meeting and a rate hike is an absolute given,” Clifford Bennett, chief economist at ACY Securities, said in a commentary.
Germany’s DAX edged down 0.1% to 14,028.26 while the CAC 40 in Paris lost 0.2% to 6,465.03. Britain’s FTSE 100 shed 0.3% to 7,536.42. The futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow industrials both were 0.2% higher.
In Asian trading, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1.1% to 20,861.27 while the Kospi in Seoul lost 0.1% to 2,677.57. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gave up 0.2% to 7,304.70.
India’s Sensex lost 1% to 56,425.88. Taiwan’s benchmark rose and most other regional markets were closed, including those in Japan and mainland China.
The higher lending rates may crimp economic growth as they come at a time when surging prices are squeezing consumers’ capacity to spend.
Market players might pick up bargains on the assumption that the rate increase has already been taken into account, Bennett said. But he added that “this excludes the on-going shock to consumers and particularly mortgage holders that will reverberate in an accelerating fashion throughout the economy. This ‘pain’ process will likely continue for the next one to three years in the real world.”
Adding to that are the uncertainties brought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian forces unleashed artillery fire on towns in eastern Ukraine, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, and were storming a bombed-out steel mill containing the last pocket of resistance in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol as more than 100 civilians evacuated from the bombed-out plant reached relative safety in Ukrainian held territory.
Oil prices rose as the European Union said it was preparing new sanctions against Russian energy over the war in Ukraine, though Slovakia and Hungary said they would oppose such measures.
Newly proposed sanctions drafted by the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, could include a phased-in embargo on Russian oil. That could strain supplies and push prices still higher.
Benchmark U.S. crude rose US$2.81 to $105.22 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gave up $2.76 on Tuesday.
Brent crude oil, the basis for pricing international oils, gained $2.70 to $107.67 per barrel.
Wall Street advanced Tuesday on hopes that the Fed won’t shock the markets with more aggressive monetary tightening plans than expected. Investors will be watching to see how Fed Chair Jerome Powell frames the future outlook, analysts said.
The S&P 500 ended 0.5% higher and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.5%. The Nasdaq inched up 0.2%, while the Russell 2000 added 0.9%.
Investors have been closely reviewing the latest round of company earnings to get more details on how inflation is impacting business and consumer activity.
They also are getting some updates on the labour market, which was slow to recover from the pandemic initially, but has grown stronger. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Tuesday that employers posted a record 11.5 million job openings in March, meaning the United States now has an unprecedented two job openings for every person who is unemployed.
On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department is expected to report that the economy generated another 396,000 new jobs in April, according FactSet. That would mark an unprecedented 12th straight month that hiring has come in at roughly 400,000 or more.
The U.S. dollar fell to 130.05 Japanese yen from 130.11 yen late Tuesday. The euro was unchanged at $1.0522.