Asian markets mostly higher after Fed hike

By Joe McDonald, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 15, 2017 at 10:14 p.m.

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BEIJING (AP) — Japanese stocks were steady while other Asian markets gained Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates and a Eurosceptic party lost Dutch elections.

KEEPING SCORE: Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index was flat at 19,578.06 while the Shanghai Composite gained 0.6 percent to 3,262.90. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1.2 percent to 24,084.14 and Seoul's Kospi rose 0.5 percent to 2,144.37. Benchmarks in New Zealand, Taiwan and Singapore gained while Malaysia fell. Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 fell 0.1 percent to 5,770.20.

U.S. RATE HIKE: The Fed raised short-term interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, its third such move since the end of 2015. The move was widely expected. The central bank stressed that it plans to move gradually and stuck to its projection that it will raise rates a total of three times this year. That cooled speculation among some investors that the Fed could move more aggressively.

WALL STREET: Stocks rose as investors took the Fed's widely anticipated rate hike in stride. The Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 0.8 percent to 2,385.26. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.5 percent to 20,950.10. The Nasdaq composite picked up 0.7 percent to 5,900.05. Gains were widespread, and seven stocks rose on the New York Stock Exchange for every one that fell.

ANALYST'S STAKE: "The Fed took off as expected but left the market with a more 'gradual' view with regards to future rate hikes," said Jingyi Pan of IG in a report. "Comments by Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen in her press conference had been perceived as dovish. The Fed chair had reiterated that the committee expects a 'gradual increase' in rates on the back of evolving economic conditions and monetary policy 'remains accommodative' at present."

DUTCH ELECTIONS: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's party won a parliamentary election victory over anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders in the year's first test for populism in Europe. Following Britain's vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's election as U.S. president, "the Netherlands said, 'Whoa!' to the wrong kind of populism," said Rutte, who is now poised for a third term as prime minister. Provisional results with over half the votes counted suggested Rutte's party won 32 seats in the 150-member legislature, 13 more than Wilders' party, which took only third place with 19 seats. Wilders campaigned on radical pledges to close borders to migrants from Muslim nations, close mosques, ban the Quran and take the Netherlands out of the EU.

FOLLOWING THE FED 1: China's central bank raised a short-term interest rate on lending to banks but left its benchmark rate unchanged following the U.S. increase. The People's Bank of China increased the rate for its six-month and one-year medium-term lending facility and open-market repurchase operations by 0.1 percent. The benchmark one-year commercial lending rate was unchanged. The bank cited the U.S. Federal Reserve's Wednesday rate hike and improved Chinese economic conditions.

FOLLOWING THE FED 2: Hong Kong's central bank copied the Fed by raising its benchmark lending rate by one-quarter point to 1.25 percent. The Asian finance hub's currency is pegged to the dollar, which means authorities copy U.S. monetary policy. "U.S. interest rate normalization will definitely impact on fund flows in asset markets around the world, including Hong Kong," said the Hong Kong Monetary Authority's chief executive, Norman Chan.

JAPAN STANDS PAT: Japan's central bank opted to keep its monetary policy steady as the Fed and Europe's central bank move toward tightening. The Bank of Japan ended a policy meeting by, as expected, leaving its benchmark lending rate unchanged at minus 0.1 percent and said it would work toward a 2 percent inflation rate target. The central bank is buying about 80 trillion yen ($700 billion) a year of Japanese government bonds to inject cash into the economy. Interest rates are near zero with the goal of stimulating inflation to encourage businesses and consumers to borrow and spend. The BOJ said the world's third-largest economy was on a "moderate recovery trend."

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 26 cents to $49.12 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract soared $1.14 on Wednesday to $48.86. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 30 cents to $52.11. It gained 89 cents the previous session to $51.81.

CURRENCY: The dollar gained to 113.40 yen from Wednesday's 113.38 yen. The euro weakened to $1.0726 from $1.0732.

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Joe McDonald


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