China stocks lead Asia lower, gold drifts after record peak

Asian equities eased on Wednesday in cautious trading, with Chinese stocks slipping as the lack of big stimulus measures from Beijing disappointed some investors, while gold and bitcoin eased after hitting record highs.

Traders are hesitant to place major bets ahead of congressional testimony from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell that will be parsed to gauge if the U.S. central bank is ready to start cutting rates.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.21% lower. Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.20% as investors took some profit after the index hit record peaks this week.

Chinese stocks fell on Wednesday, a day after Beijing set a widely expected 5% growth target for 2024 at a parliament meeting that lacked major stimulus measures.

The blue-chip CSI 300 Index fell 0.42% while Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng was 0.73% higher.

“The 2024 economic targets still show officials are unwilling to quickly reflate the economy given concerns about excessive debt and the weakness of the yuan,” said Mansoor Mohi-uddin, chief economist at the Bank of Singapore. “But the report does signal policymakers are stepping up efforts to put a floor under China’s growth and should thus support investor sentiment in 2024.” Overnight, Wall Street’s three major indexes retreated more than 1%, with weakness in megacap growth companies such as Apple and the chip sector weighing most on the tech-heavy Nasdaq. [.N]

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 was up 0.01%.

Data on Tuesday showed a waning expansion of the U.S. services sector, and a steeper-than-expected drop in new factory orders, with the spotlight firmly on payrolls data later in the week.

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields steadied in Asian hours and was last at 4.162%, having dipped to a one-month low of 4.112% in the previous session after weak data.

Traders are scouring U.S. economic data and policymakers speeches to gauge when the Fed would start cutting rates. Markets are pricing in a 68% chance of the Fed starting its easing cycle in June, CME FedWatch tool showed. They have priced in 88 basis points of cuts this year.

That makes Powell’s appearance on Wednesday a significant event but analysts expect the Fed Chair to stick to his message.

“It seems unlikely that Powell will change the message he and his colleagues have been giving recently, which is that they are in no rush to cut rates and want more certainty that inflation is tamed before doing so,” ING economists said in a note.

In the currency market, the Japanese yen strengthened 0.05% to 149.99 per dollar, while euro last bought $1.0846 ahead of policy decision from the European Central bank on Thursday.

The ECB is widely expected to leave interest rates at a record 4% but the focus will be on clues about when rates might start to fall in the wake of stubborn inflation.

Data last week showed euro zone inflation dipped in February but underlying price growth remained stubbornly high, adding to the case for the ECB to hold rates at record highs a bit longer before starting to ease policy towards mid-year.

Markets are pricing in 90 basis points of cuts from ECB this year.

In the cryptocurrency world, bitcoin was last at $63,436, having breached a record high of $69,202 in the previous session.

Spot gold eased 0.1% to $2,125.36 an ounce after touching all-time high of $2,141.59 on Tuesday. [GOL/]

U.S. crude fell 0.1% to $78.07 per barrel and Brent was at $81.93, down 0.13% on the day. [O/R]

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