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Japan and South Korea Lead Declines Across Asia-Pacific as Investors Digest Fed Remarks

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Investors observe stock market at an exchange hall on January 6, 2016 in Beijing, China.

  • Asia-Pacific markets declined on Thursday as investors digest an overnight update from the U.S. Federal Reserve.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee said a quarter-percentage point increase to its benchmark short-term borrowing rate is likely forthcoming.
  • Inflation stateside is running at its hottest level in nearly 40 years.

SINGAPORE — Asia-Pacific markets broadly fell on Thursday as investors reacted to an overnight update from the U.S. Federal Reserve that indicated the central bank plans to raise interest rates as soon as March.

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 3.11% to 26,170.30 while the Topix declined 2.61% to 1,842.44. In South Korea, the benchmark Kospi dropped 3.5% to 2,614.49. The Hang Seng index and the tech-focused Hang Seng Tech index in Hong Kong slipped 1.99% to 23,807 and 3.81% to 5,383.63, respectively.

Chinese mainland shares also declined: The Shanghai Composite slipped 1.78% to 3,394.25, and the Shenzhen component fell 2.77% to 13,398.84.

In Australia, the ASX 200 retraced early gains and closed 1.77% lower at 6,838.30.

Markets in South Asia and Southeast Asia also sold off: India's Nifty 50 was down 1.19% in afternoon trade, Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 0.44%, but Indonesia's Jakarta Composite erased losses and advanced 0.16%.

The MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was down 2.14%.

Thursday's session in the Asia-Pacific followed overnight declines on Wall Street where the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day down 129 points, after gaining more than 500 points at one point, following the Fed's update.

The Taiwan market was closed for a holiday on Thursday.

Tech shares fall

In South Korea, shares of Samsung Electronics fell 2.73% after the company reported a 53% jump in operating profit in the fourth quarter of 2021 compared to the year before, but it was down 12% from the previous three months.

The global chipmaker said its money-making memory business expects server demand to grow in 2022 as companies increase their investments into information technology, but supply chain issues are set to persist.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed shares of major Chinese tech names dropped sharply. Alibaba shares fell 7.19%, JD was down 3.51%, Meituan fell 6.93%, Baidu was down 4.04% and Tencent lost 2.24%.  Chinese video platform Bilibili also plunged 9.93%.

Block shares trading in Australia also fell 5.35% following a report that Apple is planning to allow merchants to receive payments with a phone tap instead of using hardware attachments like those produced by Square.

Block is founded and led by Twitter's Jack Dorsey and was formerly called Square.

Fed meeting, U.S. markets

The Federal Open Market Committee said a quarter-percentage point increase to its benchmark short-term borrowing rate is likely forthcoming — it would be the Fed's first hike since December 2018.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicated at a news conference that the U.S. central bank had "quite a bit of room to raise interest rates without threatening the labor market." Inflation stateside is running at its hottest level in nearly 40 years.

While the Fed's post-meeting statement did not provide a specific time for when the hike would come, indications suggest it could happen as soon as at its March meeting.

"The Fed also used this meeting to continue discussion on balance sheet normalisation and released a set of principles on its approach to shrinking the balance-sheet. Of most importance was a desire to make it predictable but sensitive to both the economy and markets," the ANZ analysts said.

Markets interpreted Powell's comments as "another hawkish tilt in Fed stance" and are pricing in almost 5 interest rate hikes this year, Maybank analysts said in a Thursday note.

Oil prices retreat

Oil prices fell Thursday during Asian trading hours. U.S. crude futures were down 0.14% to $87.23 while global benchmark Brent declined 0.13% to $89.84 a barrel.

In overnight trade, prices rose more than 2% amid growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, where experts say fears of Moscow's invasion of the Eastern European country remain. Brent prices hit $90 at one point, but pulled back slightly.

Elsewhere, South Korea's military said that North Korea fired what appears to be two ballistic missiles on Thursday, Reuters reported. The reclusive state has conducted six missile tests this month.

Meanwhile, spot gold declined after the Fed's latest comments, falling as much as 1.8% to its lowest in a week at $1,815.06, according to Reuters. It last traded at $1,811 in Asia on Thursday, dropping 0.37%.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, rose 0.92% to 96.827.

"USD extended its FOMC‑inspired gains in the Asia session and broke above its 4 January high of 96.46," Carol Kong from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in an afternoon note. The world's reserve currency could "test the 96.94 resistance level if US equities continue to sell‑off."

U.S. futures traded lower Thursday during Asian trading hours.

Elsewhere, the Japanese yen traded at 114.84 per dollar, weakening from an earlier level around 114.45, while the Australian dollar fell 0.6% to $0.7071.

— CNBC's Saheli Roy Choudhury, Jeff Cox, Hannah Miao and Fred Imbert contributed to this report.

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