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Asian shares pull back after Fed’s signals for more rate hikes

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares retreated on Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve raised rates, as expected, and kept most of its guidance for additional hikes next year, dashing investor hopes for a more dovish policy outlook.

A woman stands in front of a screen displaying Japan’s Nikkei share average, U.S. and other countries’ stock market indicators outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS dropped 0.34 percent, with Australian shares dropping as much as 0.65 percent to two-year lows.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 shed 0.8 percent to nine-month lows.

In New York, U.S. S&P 500 Index .SPX lost 1.54 percent to hit its lowest level since September 2017. U.S. stocks are on pace for their biggest December decline since 1931, the depths of the Great Depression.

“I think the Fed may be underestimating other factors at play,” said Bob Baur, chief global economist at Principal Global Investors in Des Moines, Iowa in the Unites States.

“Trade has been making headlines, but I think a gradual tightening of monetary policy has been the driving force behind recent market volatility. With corporate borrowing and spending still high, and the Fed continuing to reduce its balance sheet, I’d expect volatility to remain if this tightening continues,” he said.

The Fed raised key overnight lending rate rates by 0.25 percent point as expected to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.50 percent.

It said “some” further rate hikes would be necessary in the year ahead, with its policymakers projecting two rate hikes on average next year instead of three they saw back in September, a change that was also largely in line with expectations.

But the slight revision was not enough to ease market fears over further U.S. economic slowdown on the back of trade tensions, a waning boost from tax cuts and tightening monetary conditions for companies.

U.S. junk bonds were sold off sharply, with their ETFs (HYG) falling 0.9 percent, the biggest decline since March 1.

As investors flocked to the safety of government bonds, the 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield US10YT=RR fell below its May 29 low of 2.759 percent to as low as 2.750 percent, a level last seen in early April.

A rise in short-term interest rates and a fall in the long-date yield rekindled worries of an inversion in the yield curve, where shorter-debt yields become higher than longer-term ones.

Historically an inversion between short-yields, such as three-month and two-year yields, and 10-year yields has been seen as a fairly reliable indicator of a recession down the road.

“We expect additional rate hikes will invert the three-months to 10-year yield curve which is a reliable signal for a bear market for stocks and a coming recession for both the U.S. and the rest of the world,” said Jeffrey Kleintop, Chief Investment Strategist at Charles Schwab in Boston. “So seriously something to keep a close eye on. We do expect a very difficult year for investors.”

The two-year U.S. yield stood at 2.656 percent US2YT=RR, just 0.113 percent less than the 10-year yield.

As one 25 basis point rate hike would likely invert the yield curve, many market players are skeptical whether the Fed can raise rates at all next year.

Fed funds futures FFF0 are now pricing in only about 50 percent chance of one rate hike.

The dollar bounced back against major currencies after the Fed was perceived to be more hawkish than anticipated.

The euro traded at $1.1380 EUR=, off Wednesday’s high of $1.14395 hit before the Fed’s policy announcement.

The dollar stood at 112.44 yen JPY=, bouncing back from a seven-week low of 112.09 touched just before the Fed.

Commodity currencies fared worse due to weak oil prices.

The Australian dollar AUD=D3 hit a seven-week low of $0.7085 late on Wednesday and last stood at $0.7116.

The Canadian dollar CAD=D3 hit a 18-month trough of C$1.3507 per dollar and last traded at C$1.3485.

Later in the day, central banks from Japan, UK and Sweden will make policy announcements. All are expected to keep their policies on hold, though the Swedish central bank’s decision is seen as a close call, with some analysts expecting a rate hike.

Oil prices remained battered near their lowest levels in more than a year although they posted some gains on Wednesday from sharp selloff earlier this week after U.S. data showed strong demand for refined products. <O/R>

U.S. crude futures CLc1 were little changed at $47.38 per barrel, having fallen to $45.79 earlier this week, the lowest since late August 2017.

Additional reporting by Tomo Uetake in TOKYO and Swati Pandey in SYDNEY; Editing by Sam Holmes

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