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Asian Stocks Down, Volatility Over Ukraine Tensions, Fed Policy Remains


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By Gina Lee – Asia Pacific stocks were mostly down on Friday morning, extending a selloff as the ongoing tensions over Ukraine decreased investors’ risk appetite.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down 0.38% by 9:18 PM ET (2:18 AM GMT). Data released earlier in the day showed that the national core consumer price index (CPI) grew 0.2% year-on-year, while the national CPI grew 0.5% year-on-year, in January.

South Korea’s KOSPI was down 0.25% and in Australia, the ASX 200 fell 0.56%.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was down 0.34%.

China’s Shanghai Composite edged up 0.11% while the Shenzhen Component fell 0.42%.

The U.S. continued to warn that Russia is planning an attack on Ukraine, which has been flatly denied by Russia. However, Ukrainian government forces and Moscow-backed separatists in the conflict in the eastern part of the country accused each other of breaking cease-fire rules.

Global shares are set for a second week of losses, due to the tensions in Ukraine and the likelihood of tighter U.S. Federal Reserve monetary policy. Some $2.2 trillion worth of option expirations set to hit the market Friday could also heighten volatility.

Bets that the Fed will start hiking interest rates in March 2022 have eased somewhat as the tension in Ukraine grabs the spotlight. However, investors continue to mull the impact of tighter monetary policy on the economic recovery.

“We’ve been calling for a long time for increased volatility, but when it finally comes it’s nerve-wracking for everybody,” BMO Family Office LLC deputy chief investment officer Carol Schleif told Bloomberg.

“It’s important to remember that the Fed isn’t going to start pulling back its support for the economy, either in terms of the balance sheet purchases or interest-rate raises, if they weren’t trying to cool a very strong economy,” she added.

Meanwhile, Fed Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said on Thursday that bringing down inflation could require the central bank overshooting a neutral target interest rate, which he sees as about 2%. Fed Bank of Cleveland President Loretta Mester added that she supports hiking interest rates in March and tightening monetary policy at a faster pace if needed to curb inflation.

Other Fed officials, including Charles Evans, Christopher Waller, and Lael Brainard, will speak at the U.S. Monetary Policy Forum later in the day.

U.S.-China tensions were also in the spotlight, with China’s Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) Group Holding Ltd. (HK:9988)-owned online marketplace AliExpress, and Tencent Holdings (OTC:TCEHY) Ltd.’s (HK:0700) WeChat messaging platform, added to a U.S. list of markets notorious for counterfeiting and piracy.

However, global markets’ focus remains squarely on Eastern Europe.

It is “hard to trade a headline-driven market at the best of times, but one where we get such a contradictory narrative, there is so much noise. Volatility measures should stay elevated,” Pepperstone Financial Pty. head of research Chris Weston said in a note.

Asian Stocks Down, Volatility Over Ukraine Tensions, Fed Policy Remains

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