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Asia stocks mostly higher as investors await Powell's testimony

Lisa Micheal 7 Jul 9

Stocks in Asia mostly edged up on Wednesday as investors awaited comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for possible clues on the central bank's next move on interest rates.

Mainland Chinese stocks slipped on the day, with the Shanghai composite 0.44% lower to 2,915.30, Shenzhen component 0.35% to 9,166.15 and Shenzhen composite 0.465% lower to 1,550.87.

Meanwhile, the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong added 0.32%, as of its final hour of trading. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan also rose 0.31%.

South Korea's Kospi advanced 0.33% to close at 2,058.78 as shares of chipmaker SK Hynix soared 4.44%. Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.36% to finish its trading day at 6,689.80 as most sectors advanced.

In Japan, however, the Nikkei 225 slipped 0.15% to close at 21,533.48 and the Topix fell 0.23% to end its trading day in Tokyo at 1,571.32.

The consumer price index in China rose 2.7% year-on-year in June, in line with expectations from a Reuters poll.

One strategist said the rise in consumer prices in China may abate in the near future.

"The pork price pressure would wane somewhat in the second half, I believe, and other food prices may have a similar trend," Daniel So, strategist at CMB International Securities, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Wednesday.

Others, however, warn that the situation around pork prices may get worse. A decline in pork supply caused by an outbreak of African swine fever has been driving up prices of food in China. In June, food prices in June increased 8.3% year-on-year, higher than the previous month's figure of 7.7%.

Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at INTL FCStone, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday that actual numbers for culled pigs are probably higher than official government statistics of about 20% to 25% of the hog population in China. 

"Realistically the number's probably closer to 50% or even higher at this point," he said. "The government is estimating perhaps 70% inflation in the second half of the year, but given that they don't seem to have (a) very good handle on it and given that it seems to be widely underreported, obviously we could expect that number to go much higher."

Investors will be watching out for clues on whether the Fed will cut rates at its upcoming monetary meeting. Fed Chair Powell is scheduled to testify in front of the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. This comes just after a stronger-than-expected jobs report raised questions about the central bank's next move on interest rates.

"We expect Powell to reiterate both the Fed's belief that the case for more accommodative monetary policy has strengthened and its commitment to ensuring the US economic expansion does not falter," Joseph Capurso, senior currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, wrote in a note.

On the U.S.-China trade front, high level trade negotiations occurred between Beijing and Washington earlier this week, according to a U.S. official, who said "both sides will continue these talks as appropriate."

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.513 following its rise from levels below 97.2 earlier in the week.

The Japanese yen traded at 108.95 against the dollar after seeing levels below 108.5 earlier in the week, while the Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6917 after slipping from levels above $0.695 yesterday.

Oil prices gained in the afternoon of Asian trading hours. International benchmark Brent crude futures added 1.25% to $64.96 per barrel, while U.S. crude futures jumped 1.71% to $58.82 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.