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Economy

Shares slide, dollar climbs as inflation spooks investors

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A broker reacts while trading at his computer terminal at a stock brokerage firm in Mumbai, India, February 1, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

By Tom Westbrook

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stocks fell to an almost two-year low and the dollar hit its highest in two decades on Thursday as data showed U.S. inflation persistently hot, deepening investor worries about the economic toll of aggressive interest rate hikes to tame it.

U.S. markets whipsawed after the news, then closed sharply lower. S&P 500 futures gave up early gains to fall 0.2% in the Asia session. European futures also fell, with EuroSTOXX 50 futures down 2% and FTSE futures down 1.6%.

Bitcoin, leading a fire-sale of risky assets as rate hikes gather steam, fell 8% to $26,570. It was near $40,000 a week ago and is 60% beneath its peak six months ago.

The growth-sensitive Australian and New Zealand dollars fell about 0.8% to almost two-year lows. The Chinese yuan slid to a 19-month trough while the U.S. dollar index hit 104.21, its highest since late 2002.

Headline U.S. consumer prices rose 8.3% for the 12 months to April, slower than the 8.5% pace of a month earlier, but higher than market forecasts for 8.1%. Traders said it underscored concern that rates will rise quickly in response.

“We’re now very much embedded with at least two further (U.S.) hikes of 50 basis points on the agenda. For equity markets that really is the end of free money,” said Damian Rooney, director of institutional sales at Argonaut in Perth.

“I think we probably were delusional six months ago with the rise of U.S. equities on hopes and prayers and the madness of the meme stocks, and suddenly were going a little bit back to what is reality,” he said.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 2.3% to a 22-month low. Japan’s Nikkei fell 1.8%. (T)

Treasuries were bid in Asia, especially at the long end, flattening the yield curve as investors braced for near-term hikes to hurt long-run growth.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield fell six basis points (bps) overnight and dropped a further 7 bps to 2.8569% on Thursday. The gap between two-year and 10-year yields narrowed 4.2 bps.

“There should be a tipping point in how far the Fed can be pressed before odds clearly point towards a hard landing,” said NatWest Markets’ U.S. rates strategist Jan Nevruzi.

SELL IN MAY

The rates outlook is driving up the U.S. dollar and taking the heaviest toll on riskier assets that shot up through two years of stimulus and low-rate lending.

The Nasdaq is down nearly 8% in May so far and more than 25% this year. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Tech index slid 1.5% on Thursday and is off more than 30% this year.

Cryptocurrency markets are also melting down, with the collapse of the so-called stablecoin TerraUSD highlighting the turmoil as well as the selling in bitcoin and next-biggest-crypto, ether.

A weakening growth picture outside the United States is battering investor confidence, too, as war in Ukraine threatens an energy crisis in Europe and lengthening COVID-19 lockdowns in China throw another spanner into supply chain chaos.

Nomura estimated this week that 41 Chinese cities are in full or partial lockdowns, making up 30% of the country’s GDP.

Property developer Sunac China said it missed a bond interest payment and will miss more as China’s real estate sector remains in the grip of a credit crunch.

The yuan fell to a 19-month low of 6.7631 and has dropped almost 6% in under a month. [CNY/]

The Australian dollar fell 0.8% to a near two-year low of $0.6879. The kiwi slid by a similar margin to $0.6240, though the euro and yen held steady to keep the dollar index just shy of a two-decade peak.

Sterling was at a two-year low of $1.2204.

In commodity trade, oil wound back a bit of Wednesday’s surge as growth worries dampened fear of gas supply disruptions in Europe.

Brent crude futures fell 1.3% to $106.90 a barrel.

British activity and growth data is due later in the day.

Economy

Dollar slips from 2-decade highs; yuan falls on weak China data

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. dollar banknotes are displayed in this illustration taken, February 14, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Sinéad Carew

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar index was lower on Monday after hitting a 20-year peak last week, with the global economy in focus after weak economic data from China highlighted worries about the prospects for a global slowdown.

Creating a risk-off mood on Monday, China’s retail and factory activity fell sharply in April as extensive COVID-19 lockdowns confined workers and consumers to their homes. But Shanghai did set out plans for the return to more normal life from June 1.

Following the release of China’s data, Bipan Rai, North America head of FX Strategy at CIBC Capital Markets, said trading was focused on macro economic data on Monday.

“It’s important to highlight that the risks are towards a stronger dollar and primarily, that’s because if you look at the macro economic climate, the fundamentals don’t look good. From a risk-off perspective that should still support the dollar against most currencies,” Rai said.

But he said the greenback was consolidating after its recent strength and that more range-bound trading sessions were possible: “It makes sense for some period of consolidation before the next leg higher.”

Trading in the dollar may be muted partly because a lot of bad news has already been priced in but also because investors are waiting for events such as the U.S. retail sales data release and a public appearance by Fed Chair Jerome Powell both scheduled for Tuesday, according to Mazen Issa, senior FX strategist at TD Securities. [nL2N2X52F6]

Still Issa said he doesn’t “think we’re in a market where we’re going to see the dollar weaken … It’s going to take a lot to get investors out of the dollar.”

The euro was pulled from its earlier lows after European Central Bank policymaker Francois Villeroy de Galhau said the common currency’s weakness could threaten the ECB’s efforts to steer inflation towards its target.

The Australian dollar, which is highly exposed to the Chinese economy, reversed course as the day wore on and was last up against the dollar after falling as much as 0.9%.

The dollar index was last down 0.37% at 104.16, after briefly crossing the 105 level on Friday – its highest level since December 2002, after six successive weeks of gains. Weekly positioning data showed that investors had built their long dollar bets.

The euro was up 0.26% at $1.0438 but not far from last week’s low of $1.0354, its lowest level since early 2017. Analysts see $1.0340 as a crucial level of euro support.

HSBC strategists expect the euro to fall to parity against the dollar in the coming year. “Much weaker growth and much higher inflation leave the ECB facing one of the toughest policy challenges in G10 (central banks),” they said.

Crypto markets, which trade around the clock, had a quiet weekend after turmoil last week driven by TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin, which broke its dollar peg. An affiliate of the company behind TerraUSD said it had spent the bulk of its reserves trying to defend its dollar peg and would use the remainder to try to compensate some users who had lost out.

Bitcoin was last trading at around $29,881, down more than 4%, after having dropped to $25,400 on Thursday, its lowest mark since December 2020.

Currency bid prices at 3:03PM (1903 GMT)

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Economy

Taliban dissolve Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission, other key bodies

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An Afghan woman walks on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Ali Khara/File Photo

By Mohammad Yunus Yawar

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban authorities in Afghanistan dissolved five key departments of the former U.S.-backed government, including the country’s Human Rights Commission, deeming them unnecessary in the face of a financial crunch, an official said on Monday.

Afghanistan faces a budget deficit of 44 billion Afghanis ($501 million) this financial year, Taliban authorities said on Saturday as they announced their first annual national budget since taking over the war-torn country last August.

“Because these departments were not deemed necessary and were not included in the budget, they have been dissolved,” Innamullah Samangani, the Taliban government’s deputy spokesman, told Reuters.

Also dissolved was the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), the once high-powered National Security Council, and the commission for overseeing the implementation of the Afghan constitution.

The HCNR was last headed by former Afghan President Abdullah Abdullah, and was working to negotiate a peace between the U.S.-backed government of former President Ashraf Ghani and the then-insurgent Taliban.

In August 2021, 20 years after invading Afghanistan, foreign forces withdrew from the country leading to the collapse of the government and a Taliban takeover.

Samangani said the national budget was “based on objective facts” and intended only for departments that had been active and productive.

He added that the bodies could be reactivated in the future “if needed”.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 with an iron fist and implemented a harsh version of Islamic rule, including banning women from education and work. After taking over last year, the Taliban assured the world they would be more moderate.

However, they are yet to allow older girls to restart education, and have also introduced rules that mandate that women and girls wear veils and requiring them to have male relatives accompany them in public places.

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Economy

U.S. SEC chair says much to be done to protect crypto investors

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2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Representations of virtual cryptocurrencies are placed on U.S. dollar banknotes in this illustration taken November 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

2/2

By John McCrank

(Reuters) – Cryptocurrency assets are highly speculative and investors in them need more protections or they could lose trust in the markets, Gary Gensler, chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said on Monday.

Generally, people who buy cryptocurrencies do not get the disclosures they get when they make other asset purchases around things like whether the trading platform they are using is actually trading against them, or whether they actually own the assets they store in digital wallets, Gensler said.

“We have this basic bargain: You the investing public can make your choices about the risk you take, but there is supposed to be full and fair disclosure, and people are not supposed to lie to you,” he said at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s annual conference in Washington.

His comments came after last week’s spectacular collapse of TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin that lost its 1-to-1 dollar peg.

The token’s crash sent cryptocurrencies tumbling, a slide that resumed on Monday, as bitcoin erased the gains it had eked out over the weekend to trade under $30,000, far below its Nov. 10 record of $69,000.

While crypto markets are thought of as decentralized, the reality is that most activity occurs on a handful of trading platforms, which, along with token issuers, need to work with the SEC to improve industry rules and disclosures, Gensler said.

He pointed to basic market principles like, “anti-fraud, anti-manipulation, making sure there’s not front-running, making sure an order book is actually real and not made up.”

The SEC will continue to be “a cop on the beat,” while working with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to ensure all cryptocurrencies are covered, Gensler said.

“There’s a lot to be done here, and in the meantime the investing public is not that well protected,” he said.

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