Asia Pacific stocks mostly up as investors await Fed rate decision

Stocks in Asia Pacific mostly edged higher on Wednesday as investors awaited the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates.

Mainland Chinese stocks were mixed on the day, with the Shanghai composite up 0.44% to about 2,822.44 while the Shenzhen composite dipped 0.105% to around 1,730.74. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 0.1%, as of its final hour of trading.

South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.7% to close at 1,947.56. Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.51% to end its trading day at 5,393.40 as shares of major banks such as Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac advanced at least 4% each.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index rose 0.99%.

On the corporate earnings front, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics posted a first quarter net profit of 4.9 trillion Korean won ($4.01 billion), Reuters reported Wednesday. Still, that was below Refinitiv estimates of 5.1 trillion won.

The industry heavyweight flagged that overall earnings are likely to decline in the second quarter as compared to the previous period, while Covid-19 is expected to significantly impact demand for several of its core products, according to Reuters. Shares of Samsung Electronics dipped 0.2% on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed shares of Standard Chartered jumped more than 6%, as of their final hour of trading on Wednesday. The firm posted a 12% year-on-year decline in profit before taxation for the first quarter. In its earnings release, Standard Chartered said the firm is “well prepared for a protracted period of severe dislocation.”

Markets in Japan were closed on Wednesday for a holiday.

In central bank news, the Fed is expected to announce its interest rate decision at 2:00 a.m. HK/SIN on Thursday. Investors will look for guidance on the U.S. central bank’s future path of interest rates as the country looks toward gradually reopening its economy.

“We are not expecting any policy action from the Fed, which has already unleashed unwavering policy easing at emergency meetings; from slashing rates to essentially zero; “unlimited QE”; to various extended liquidity/lending facilities,” analysts at Mizuho Bank wrote in a note.

“It is more likely that the Fed will merely, assess the policy actions that have been announced, and possibly streamline/clarify the plethora of facilities set up,” the analysts said. “That said, there will be nothing in the rhetoric to suggest that the Fed is in anything but dovish mode, and maintaining an aggressive easing stance.”

Oil prices surge

Oil prices jumped in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures 5.03% higher at $21.49 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also gained 15.8% to $14.29 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 99.69 after an earlier high of 99.885.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.53 per dollar after strengthening sharply from levels above 107.2 yesterday. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6533 following a rise from levels below $0.648 yesterday.

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