Asia tentative, awaiting word on Fed rate outlook

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Caution shrouded Asian markets on Tuesday as investors fretted over what Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen might say on the likely lift-off date for policy tightening later in the session.

Moves were marginal at best and MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> inched down 0.1 percent. The Nikkei <.N225> dithered either side of flat after scoring a run of 15-year highs.

Oil prices tried to steady after their latest retreat, with U.S. crude <CLc1> up 10 cents at $ 49.55.

On Wall Street, the Nasdaq had notched up nine straight sessions of gains in its longest since September 2010, aided by a further rise in Apple <AAPL.O> stock to an all time peak.

The Nasdaq <.IXIC> ended Monday up 0.1 percent, while the Dow <.DJI> fell 0.13 percent and the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 0.03 percent.

Yellen testifies before Congress later on Tuesday and there is much uncertainty over whether she will echo the dovish tone of the minutes from the Fed’s last meeting, or reaffirm June as a window for a first rate hike.

“Given the growing evidence that the backdrop can more than withstand what will amount to a modest increase in the policy rate, we find it hard to imagine Yellen will promote the “lower for longer” mantra that was espoused in the Minutes,” argues Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBCM.

“Economic fundamentals quite clearly show we no longer need emergency levels of accommodation.”

If that view proves right, it would likely send Treasury yields and the dollar higher, while challenging risk appetite globally.

Bond investors seemed to be hoping Yellen would choose to take a dovish slant, and yields on 10-year Treasury notes <US10YT=RR> were steady at 2.06 percent, compared to last week’s high of 2.1640 percent.

The forex market was leaning the other way and keeping the dollar well underpinned at 118.90 yen <JPY=> and at 94.546 <.DXY> against a basket of currencies.

The euro remained on the defensive at $ 1.1333 <EUR=>, having failed to sustain a bounce to $ 1.1412 overnight.

Doubts lingered over Greece which will now send its economic reform plans to euro zone finance ministers on Tuesday, after missing a Monday deadline.

Germany has insisted that any extra spending on the list of reforms had to be offset by savings or higher taxes in order to meet conditions for extending Athens’ financial lifeline.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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