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FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, walks past an electronic board displaying Shanghai Composite index, Nikkei index and Dow Jones Industrial Average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, March 7, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

March 23, 2022

By Tom Westbrook

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian equities hit three week highs on Wednesday as cash fleeing tumbling bond markets flowed back toward big tech and other beaten-up sectors, while the Ukraine conflict’s potential to further hit supplies kept oil and commodity prices high.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.6%, with Hong Kong, Seoul and Sydney all registering similar sized gains.

The index is at its highest since March 4. Japan’s Nikkei jumped 2.5% to touch a two-month top and the moves follow a gain of 1.1% for the S&P 500 and nearly 2% for the Nasdaq in overnight trade.

Bond markets extended their retreat as investors braced for the Federal Reserve to take an even more aggressive approach to taming inflation. Two-year Treasury yields are up 76 basis points (bps) in March and 10-year yields are up almost 60 bps to 2.4154%, the highest since 2019.

The selloff, which began months ago, gathered momentum in recent sessions after Fed Chair Jerome Powell flagged the possibility of bigger-than-usual interest rate hikes. As a result, the rates-sensitive yen plumbed six-year lows of 121.41 per dollar on Wednesday.

“The move higher in yields stretching over the past two weeks has been the largest one since the global financial crisis and even then the moves were within a couple of basis points of what we are experiencing now,” said NatWest Markets’ rates strategist Jan Nevruzi.

“At some point the market might start pricing in an economic downturn, particularly if the Fed embarks on a series of 50 bp hikes.”

For now, investors have been impressed by U.S. economic strength – notwithstanding headwinds from war and inflation – and are wagering that big businesses with good cashflows can hold their own.

“Big tech, with expanding revenue and ability to control costs, is doing well,” said George Boubouras at K2 Asset Management in Melbourne.

Tech behemoths Tencent and Alibaba and food-delivery giant Meituan led the Hang Seng tech index up by more than 3%.

Bonds in Asia were kept under pressure on Wednesday though the volume of selling moderated a bit. Ten-year Australian government bond yields rose 3.5 bps to 2.776%, anchored Japanese 10-year yields edged up to 0.222%, close to testing the Bank of Japan’s 0.25% ceiling.

In currency markets, analysts saw little hope for a reversal in the yen’s fortunes as the policy gap between Japan and the rest of the world was widening and high energy prices were taking a toll on the country’s trade balance.

The yen has lost 6% in a week against the Australian dollar, which has benefited from soaring prices for Australia’s commodity exports.

A broadly softer U.S. dollar helped the Aussie and kiwi to their highest against the greenback since last November, with the Aussie hitting $0.7477 and kiwi $0.6973.

The euro held at $1.1031.

Oil steadied at lofty heights, with Brent crude futures up 0.5% at $116.13 a barrel and U.S. crude up 0.6% to $107.23.

Grains remained supported by supply concerns.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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