Global stocks falter, dollar off on Fed minutes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 6:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 6:59am

Global stocks pulled back from record highs on Wednesday while the dollar declined after minutes from the US Federal Reserve offered little to support the notion of an interest rate increase in March.

The perceived less hawkish tone of the Fed’s record of the January 31-February 1 policy meeting helped lift gold and US bonds from negative territory. Oil futures ended lower on renewed concerns about rising US inventories.

Many Fed policymakers said it may be appropriate to raise interest rates again “fairly soon” should jobs and inflation data come in line with expectations. But the minutes also showed uncertainty because of a lack of clarity on the new Trump administration’s economic programme.

“These minutes reflect this mindset of a moderate path. They don’t see a smoking gun for them to speed up. There’s way too much uncertainty about the content and timing on fiscal stimulus and their impact,” said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist at PGIM Fixed Income in Newark, New Jersey.

US President Donald Trump’s pledge of tax cuts, looser regulation and more infrastructure spending - together with relatively strong earnings seasons in Europe and the United States and upbeat economic data - have fueled a stock rally this year.

MSCI’s main index of global stocks, which tracks share prices across 46 countries, hit a second successive record high at 446.60. It was last at 446.04.

On Wall Street, the Dow ended up 32.6 points, or 0.16 per cent, at 20,775.6, the S&P 500 closed down 2.56 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 2,362.82 and the Nasdaq Composite finished down 5.32 points, or 0.09 per cent, to 5,860.63.

The Dow reached its ninth straight all-time closing high.

Europe’s broad FTSEurofirst 300 index closed up 0.06 per cent at 1,472.79 after earlier reaching its highest since December 2015.

Fed minutes hint at US rate increase ‘fairly soon’

As US stock prices treaded water after the Fed minutes, the dollar sank as traders stuck to their view the probability of a US rate increase in March was low.

The dollar was down 0.2 per cent at 101.20.

Concerns about sweeping changes from major elections across Europe helped push the gap between short-dated US and German government bond yields to its widest in nearly 17 years.

US and German bond yields pared some losses after centrist candidate Francois Bayrou backed independent candidate Emmanuel Macron in France’s presidential race in a bid to bolster Macron’s chances of defeating anti-EU, anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen.

German two-year yields hit a record low of minus 0.919 per cent before bouncing to minus 0.892 per cent. US two-year yields hit 1.208 per cent before retracing to 1.224 per cent, Reuters data showed.

In the oil market, Brent crude settled down 82 cents or 1.45 per cent at US$55.84 a barrel, while US crude settled 74 cents or 1.36 per cent lower at US$53.59.

Spot gold prices rose US$2.83 to US$1,238.73 an ounce, erasing losses following the release of the Fed minutes.