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Bay Street Nervous Amid US Rate Hike Chatter

04 March 2017

This week has an unusually high concentration of Fed speeches, with four out of five Fed governors - including Chair Janet Yellen - speaking ahead of the March 14-15 rate meeting.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.5 per cent, while materials and energy stocks pushed Australia's S&P/ASX 200 0.8 per cent lower.

"Let's call it two-thirds probability of a hike, up from only a little over a third just some days ago - so we are basically pricing in a March hike", says Hardy, adding that a firm reading for United States personal consumption expenditures inflation due at 1330 GMT on Wednesday could seal a March rate rise.

Rates went up by 0.25% in December, only the second increase in a decade.

US stocks remained modestly lower following Yellen's remarks.

Nothing, it seems, can stop stock markets going up.

Futures markets have shifted rapidly in recent weeks, with the majority of investors now predicting a rate hike in March rather than in May.

Hong Kong sank 0.6 percent in the afternoon while Shanghai ended 0.4 percent off, Seoul slipped 1.1 percent, Singapore shed 0.7 percent and Sydney dived 0.8 percent.

On Wednesday, Lael Brainard, a Fed board member and previously a leading advocate for delaying rate increases, said she thought the case for another hike was strengthening.

Yellen did not directly address the likely impact of theTrump administration's economic policies in her remarks.

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The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, jumped 0.35 per cent to 101.47 on Wednesday.

U.S. Treasury yields rose, with 2-year notes touching a fresh 7-1/2-year high and other maturities hit multiweek peaks after Yellen's speech.

In his first address to a joint session of Congress late Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he wanted to boost the US economy with a "massive" tax relief, make a $1-trillion effort on infrastructure and overhaul Obamacare.

"The dollar and yields are moving higher as next theme of the market, the "Fed" overrides the Trump effect".

Japan led Asian stock markets higher, with the Nikkei up 1.4%.

"A rate hike in March has already been largely priced in", said Wouter Sturkenboom, senior investment strategist at Russell Investments.

In commodities, crude oil futures rose as the weaker US dollar encouraged buying, but investors remained cautious after Russian production figures showed weak compliance with an agreement to cut output.

The hardening prospect of a USA rate rise this month together with some disappointing manufacturing data saw the pound weaken to six-month lows against the dollar today.

Services activity in the US strengthened in February, according to the Institute for Supply Management.

China's move to open its derivatives market to foreign bond investors could help counter outflows but lingering concerns about capital controls are keeping offshore investors cautious.