Asian Markets Slip as Inflation Fears Trump Recovery Hopes

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Asian markets mostly fell Thursday on profit-taking and growing worries about inflation, which offset long-running optimism about the global recovery as vaccines are rolled out, infection rates slow and Joe Biden's stimulus winds through Congress.

Oil prices pushed further up to 13-month highs as the severe cold snap in the United States hammers production, even trumping news that Saudi Arabia is planning to up output in light of the commodity's strong performance in recent months.

Confidence that the world economy will enjoy a scorching rebound from last year's collapse has fired global equities and other risk assets for months as immunisation programmes allow people to slowly get back to a semblance of normality and lockdowns are eased.

Underpinning that has been vast amounts of government spending as well as ultra-loose central bank monetary policies and pledges of continued support until the recovery is well underway.

But that has led to expectations of a surge in inflation and a spike in US Treasury yields to around one-year highs, sparking worries of higher borrowing costs down the line.

And it is these fears, along with warnings equities may have run ahead of themselves, that are playing on investors' minds.

Those concerns were allayed by a forecast-beating jump in US retail sales last month, and wholesale inflation climbed at its fastest pace since the index was revamped in December 2009.

"Strong US economic data dampened the argument that the economy still needs massive stimulus and as rising inflation expectations start to weigh on valuations," said OANDA strategist Edward Moya. 

"Technology stocks are leading the decline as pricing pressures will likely have the biggest impact on their bottom line. The skyrocketing move in yields is triggering some investors to take off some of their most profitable frothy trades."

- Crude extends gains -

Still, observers said the surprise jump would be unlikely to shift the Federal Reserve from its course as the economy continues to be threatened by the pandemic and is "far from" achieving growth and employment goals.

While the Dow edged to another record high, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both dipped.

Asian markets struggled. Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul, Wellington, Manila, Mumbai and Bangkok all fell, with Hong Kong more than one percent off after a seven-day run-up.

Shanghai rose as it reopened after a week-long holiday, while Taipei and Jakarta also rose and Sydney was barely moved.

Stephen Innes at Axi said while rising yields and price concerns remained, "improving Covid-19 trends and robust economic data allow investors to turn their attention to updates on reopening timelines -- especially from the UK and the US as cries for a quicker end to mobility restrictions grow more vocal".

Oil prices rose again as economic reopening optimism was mixed with news that the US cold snap had hammered output, with Bloomberg News reporting 40 percent of the nation's production had been hit. Expectations US stockpiles had fallen also provided support to the black gold.

The US troubles overshadowed Riyadh's decision to ease production cuts within the next few months.

"I don't think the markets were overly shocked about the Saudi rollback amid the roaring recovery in global demand, good news on the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, and the extremely healthy oil price," Innes added.

Bitcoin tapped another record of $52,631, just days after breaking $50,000, before easing back slightly.

- Key figures around 0700 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 30,236.09 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.1 percent at 30,729.70

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.6 percent at 3,675.36 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2044 from $1.2043 at 2230 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3850 from $1.3858

Euro/pound: UP at 86.96 pence from 86.87 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.91 yen from 105.86 yen

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.2 percent at $65.08 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.9 percent at $61.71 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 31,613.02 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.6 percent at 6,710.90 (close)