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Asian Stocks Mixed, Investors Continue to Gauge Inflation Risk

By Gina Lee – Asia Pacific stocks were mixed on Wednesday morning, while U.S. Treasuries fell, as investors continued weighing the risks from high inflation.

China’s Shanghai Composite was down 0.31% by 10:42 PM ET (2:42 AM GMT) and the Shenzhen Component slid 1.33%. The country’s trade data for March 2022 is due later in the day.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was down 0.31%.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 1.64% and South Korea’s KOSPI gained 1.17%.

In Australia, the ASX 200 edged up 0.12%, with the Westpac consumer sentiment index contracting 0.9% in April.

Investors continued to digest Tuesday’s U.S. inflation data, which showed that the consumer price index (CPI) rose 8.5% year-on-year in March, its highest level since late 1981. The CPI rose 1.2% month-on-month, while the core CPI rose 6.5% year-on-year and 0.3% month-on-month.

U.S. Treasuries trimmed a rally that was sparked by the core CPI figure. The figure also prompted traders to scale back bets on how aggressively the U.S. Federal Reserve will hike interest rates, but some investors warned that cost pressures continue to remain a big risk.

“We’re hopeful that this is where it’s going to peak,” Allspring Global Investments head of active equity Ann Miletti told Bloomberg, referring to U.S. inflation. However, markets continue to face a wall of worry from rising interest rates to the impact of China’s COVID-19 lockdowns, she added.

Fed Governor Lael Brainard also said the U.S. central bank will move “expeditiously” to hike interest rates to a level that neither stimulates nor slows the economy in 2022. She added that a decision on paring the Fed balance sheet could come as soon as May, with reductions starting a month later.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester and Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker will also speak on Thursday.

In other central bank news, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand hiked its interest rate to 1.5% as it handed down its policy decision earlier in the day. The Bank of Canada follows later in the day, with the European Central Bank and the Bank of Korea following on Thursday.

A rally in oil, as Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to continue the invasion of Ukraine and China partially eased COVID-19 lockdowns, also highlighted inflation concerns.

Putin said peace talks with Ukraine are “at a dead end” and vowed to continue the invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24. His Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, again appealed for further European Union sanctions on Russia to include oil as well as all banks.

On the data front, U.S. data, including retail sales and the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index is due on Thursday. Investors are also monitoring the latest earnings season, with concerns growing that rising commodity costs and consumers who are more cautious could squeeze company profits.

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