Asian stocks fell this morning after comments from the new head of the Federal Reserve suggested U.S. interest rates could rise sooner than financial markets were anticipating.
Janet Yellen’s comments after the Fed’s first policy meeting since she replaced Ben Bernanke sent Wall Street lower and the American dollar higher on Wednesday.
The Nikkei 225, the benchmark for the Tokyo stock market, fell 1.7 percent to 14,224.23 and South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.9 percent to 1,919.52.
Local analysts speculated that higher U.S. interest rates were expected to come eventually, but there was “a surprise element” when Yellen implied that the Fed’s time frame for raising interest rates was closer to the first half of 2015, sooner than many had expected. The Fed also voted to cut its monthly bond purchases from $65 billion to $55 billion as part of its ongoing winding down of the extraordinary monetary stimulus.
The US dollar had its biggest one-day gain yesterday since August because of the higher interest rate talk.
The next market-moving factor players are watching in Japan is a consumption tax hike effective April 1. Opinion is divided on whether some stocks will drop as a result of the tax, while others may rise. Many believe the effects will be small.
The TSX closed down almost 35 points at 14,334; The Dow Jones industrial average lost 114.02 points, to close at 16,222. The Dow fell as much as 209 points before erasing some of its loss. The Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped 11 points, to 1,860 and the Nasdaq composite lost 25.71 points, to 4,307.60.
Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 13 cents at $100.50 a barrel at in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 67 cents to $100.37 on Wednesday. Most trading has shifted to the May contract as the April contract expired today. Oil for May delivery was up 20 cents to $99.37 a barrel.
The euro rose to $1.3841 from $1.3825 late Wednesday. The dollar fell to 102.30 yen from 102.46 yen.