Dollar holds ground as yields rise, Asia equities mostly down

Hong Kong (AFP) –


The dollar eased Thursday from its latest rally but it held most gains as US Treasury yields sat at four-year highs, but weakness in the technology sector dragged on Asian equities.

Expectations the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates four times this year -- instead of the three previously thought -- have increased as the improving economy, rising oil prices and Donald Trump's huge tax cuts fan inflationary pressure.

This has led the yield on 10-year Treasuries -- which are used as a benchmark for mortgage rates -- to break the three percent mark Tuesday.

The dollar has also pushed to multi-month highs against the yen and euro with the single unit also weighed by fading chances for monetary tightening by the European Central Bank.

"The US dollar is breaking out and if the ECB is even slightly dovish (at its policy meeting Thursday) -- or perhaps not hawkish -- the euro could break wide open and with that, the big surge in the dollar will have truly begun," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

While the greenback is slightly lower Thursday analysts say it could soon test the 110 yen level while the euro could dip to $1.2150.

Dealers are keeping a close eye on US growth data Friday for a better idea about the Fed's monetary policy plans.

- Tech woes -

With safe government debt offering more attractive returns, riskier assets such as equities have also been hit, though Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA, said "it looks like the three percent 10-year Treasury doom-and-gloom hand was overplayed".

The Dow and S&P 500 ended with gains in New York but the Nasdaq retreated.

In Asia most major markets were in the red. Hong Kong fell 0.9 percent and Shanghai shed one percent, while Sydney and Singapore each dipped 0.1 percent. Manila and Jakarta also sank.

However, Tokyo ended the morning session 0.6 percent higher thanks to a weaker yen, while Seoul jumped more than one percent and the won also gained ahead of a historic North-South Korea summit on Friday.

Technology firms again struggled on worries about the smartphone sector, which has seen Apple shares battered over the past week.

A strong earnings report from South Korean titan Samsung provided support to its stocks but it warned about falling demand for high-tech handsets as well as competition from Chinese companies.

Apple supplier LG Display fell 3.6 percent in Seoul and TSMC in Taipei slipped 0.7 percent, while among other tech firms Hong Kong-listed AAC Technologies dived almost four percent and Tencent shed one percent.

Oil prices built on recent gains as uncertainty over Trump's decision regarding the Iran nuclear deal, along with the OPEC-Russia output cap, helped offset a disappointing reading on US stockpiles.

- Key figures around 0300 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.6 percent at 22,346.24 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.9 percent at 30,071.60

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.0 percent at 3,087.96

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2178 from $1.2168 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.32 yen from 109.39

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3946 from $1.3924

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 34 cents at $68.39 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 46 cents at $74.46 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 24.083.83 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.6 percent at 7,379.32 (close)