Asian stocks muted as Fed meeting looms; Nikkei rallies ahead of BOJ

Asian stocks muted as Fed meeting looms; Nikkei rallies ahead of BOJ– Most Asian stocks were muted on Monday as caution prevailed before a barrage of key central bank meetings this week, most notably from the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan.

Middling economic data from China also weighed on sentiment, as the region’s biggest economy continued to grapple with sluggish growth.

Anticipation of a Fed meeting later this week remained a key point of focus, as markets feared any hawkish signals from the central bank following stronger-than-expected U.S. inflation prints. U.S. stock index futures were muted in Asian trade.

But Japanese shares vastly outperformed their peers, rising sharply despite rampant speculation that the BOJ was close to ending its negative interest rates and yield curve control policies.

Japanese stocks rebound with BOJ pivot in sight
Japan’s Nikkei 225 index jumped over 2% on Monday, while the broader TOPIX index added 1.6%. Both indexes moved back towards record highs after tumbling from their peaks over the past week.

Gains were broad-based, although consumer-oriented stocks surged on the prospect of increased wages in the country. Automobile makers Honda Motor Co Ltd (TYO:7267) (NYSE:HMC) and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (TYO:7201) also rose sharply on reports they had signed a collaboration to develop electric vehicles.

Japanese stocks gained despite increasing expectations that the BOJ was close to ending its ultra-dovish monetary policies, with a potential rate hike on the cards. The bank will conclude a two-day meeting on Tuesday.

Analysts are split over whether the BOJ will hike rates on Tuesday, or in April. In the event of a rate hike, the central bank is expected to raise rates by 20 basis points to 0.1% from negative 0.1%.

While an end to the BOJ’ ultra-dovish policies marks a close to nearly a decade of flush liquidity conditions enjoyed by Japanese markets, it also reflects increasing confidence in the Japanese economy. Japanese unions won bumper wage hikes from employers this year- a trend that bodes well for the consumption-heavy economy.

Chinese stocks inch higher amid mixed production, retail sales data
China’s Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 and Shanghai Composite indexes rose 0.5% and 0.4%, respectively, as data showed industrial production grew more than expected in the January-February period.

While the reading presented strength in Chinese manufacturing output, other readings showed consumption was slowing, while unemployment unexpectedly rose.

China’s unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 5.3% in the first two months of 2024, while retail sales grew less than expected despite a boost from the Lunar New Year holiday.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.3% on losses in mainland stocks.

Among other Asian stocks, Australia’s ASX 200 index moved little in anticipation of a Reserve Bank of Australia meeting on Tuesday. The RBA is widely expected to keep interest rates unchanged, but to also maintain its hawkish stance amid sticky inflation.

South Korea’s KOSPI rose 0.4%, while futures for India’s Nifty 50 index pointed to a weak start, as market caution saw investors continue to lock-in profits from record highs hit earlier in March.

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