ASX set to slip as Wall Street scuffles; Bitcoin falls

By Stan Choe

Stocks are modestly lower on Wall Street, adding to their losses following a sharp two-day slide, as the market remains under pressure from rising bond yields.

After mostly holding steady in the early going, the S&P 500 was down 0.3 per cent afternoon trading Thursday. The Dow Jones was down 0.4 per cent and the Nasdaq composite was 0.7 per cent lower. The Australian sharemarket is set to edge lower, with futures at 4.59am AEST pointing to a slide of 15 points, or 0.2 per cent, at the open. The ASX lost 0.7 per cent on Thursday.

Wall Street has had an unhappy August.
Wall Street has had an unhappy August. Credit: AP

Technology stocks were among the biggest drag on the market, with some exceptions. Cisco Systems was a bright spot, rising 3.8 per cent. The maker of networking equipment reported stronger profit and revenue for the latest quarter than analysts expected.

Walmart did as well, while also raising its forecast for full-year results. But its stock swung from an early gain to a loss of 1.8 per cent.

Stocks broadly have been retreating in August following a torrid first seven months of the year. That’s in part because a swift rise in bond yields is forcing a reassessment of how much to pay for stocks.

The 10-year Treasury, which is the centrepiece of the bond market, is now yielding 4.31 per cent after touching its highest level since October earlier in the morning.

If it reaches 4.34 per cent, it will be at a level unseen since 2007, according to Tradeweb. That’s before the financial crisis and Great Recession caused yields to collapse to record lows. The 10-year Treasury was yielding less than 0.70 per cent three years ago.

Higher yields are good for bond investors, who get fatter payouts for their investments. But it hurts stock prices because investors are suddenly less inclined to pay high prices for them and other investments that aren’t as steady as bonds.


Higher yields also mean borrowers have to pay more to get cash, which can crimp corporate profits and cause unforeseen things to break in the system, like the three high-profile U.S. bank failures that shook markets this spring.

Homebuyers are also feeling the sting of higher yields. The recent rise in the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use to price rates on home loans, pushed the average rate on a 30-year mortgage this week to its highest level in more than 20 years.

Yields have been on the rise as more reports show the U.S. economy remains remarkably resilient. On the upside for markets, the data means the economy has been able to avoid a long-predicted recession. But on the downside, it could also keep upward pressure on inflation. That would give the Federal Reserve reason to keep interest rates higher for longer.

More data came in Thursday showing a firm U.S. economy.

Fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than economists expected. It’s the latest signal that the job market continues to be solid.

A separate survey of manufacturers in the mid-Atlantic region unexpectedly showed growth, when economists were expecting another month of contraction. Manufacturing has been one of the areas of the economy hit hardest by much higher interest rates.

“The labour market continues to be resilient—maybe too resilient for the Fed’s liking,” said Mike Loewengart, head of model portfolio construction at Morgan Stanley Global Investment Office.

Other strong economic data recently, including a report showing an acceleration in sales growth at U.S. retailers, mean the Fed could hike interest rates again at some point, he said. Hopes had been rising on Wall Street that the Fed could be done after it raised its main rate last month to the highest level in more than two decades.

Traders had also been hoping the Fed would begin cutting rates early next year. Such a move would be a relief for markets because high rates work to lower inflation by slowing the entire economy and hurting prices for investments.

Minutes from the Fed’s latest meeting released Wednesday suggested officials are unsure of their next moves. They say it will depend on what upcoming reports about inflation and the job market say.

Inflation has cooled considerably from its peak above 9 per cent last summer. But consumers still paid prices that were 3.2 per cent higher in July than a year earlier, and economists say the last stretch to get inflation down to the Fed’s 2 per cent target may prove to be the most difficult.

That’s why the resilience of the job market and spending by U.S. households is a concern for markets as well as a boon.

A stronger economy would burn more fuel, and oil prices rose Thursday to recover some of their slide from earlier in the week. A barrel of U.S. crude added 1.3 per cent to $80.38. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 0.8 per cent, to $84.09 per barrel.

That helped stocks of energy producers to some of the biggest gains in the S&P 500. Exxon Mobil rose 2.4 per cent and was one of the strongest forces pushing upward on the index. Chevron added 2.2 per cent, and ConocoPhillips gained 1.8 per cent.

They helped offset a 9.3 per cent drop for CVS Health. Blue Shield of California is planning to drop CVS Caremark as pharmacy-benefits manager, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In stock markets abroad, indexes fell modestly across much of Europe and Asia.

Worries about a faltering economic recovery in China have weighed on stocks in Hong Kong and Shanghai in particular recently, though they were steadier Thursday.


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