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Stock market today: Asian shares are mixed after Bank of Japan ups key rate for 1st time in 17 years

ELAINE KURTENBACH
March 19, 2024

BANGKOK (AP) -- Shares were mixed in Asia on Tuesday after the Bank of Japan hiked its benchmark interest rate for the first time in 17 years, ending a longstanding negative rate policy at odds with the stances of most central banks.

In a widely anticipated move, the BOJ raised its overnight call rate to a range of 0 to 0.1%, up from minus 0.1%.

It said that wage increases and other indicators suggested that inflation had stabilized above the BOJ's 2% target, but noted "extremely high uncertainties," including weakness in industrial production, exports, housing investment and government spending.

Market reaction was muted.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.7% to 40,003.60, while the dollar rose to 150.35 Japanese yen from 149.14 yen.

Chinese markets declined. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 1.2% to 16,526.98, while the Shanghai Composite index dropped 0.7% to 3,064.56.

In Seoul, the Kospi fell 1.1% to 2,656.17.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.4% to 7,703.20 after Australia's central bank kept its benchmark interest rate steady at 4.35% for a third consecutive meeting. The widely expected decision reflected the fact that inflation is cooling but still above the Reserve Bank of Australia's target.

On Monday, U.S. stocks rose ahead of a busy week for central banks around the world.

This week's highlight for Wall Street will likely be the Federal Reserve's meeting on interest rates, which ends on Wednesday. The widespread expectation is for the central bank to hold its main interest rate steady at its highest level since 2001.

But Fed officials will also give updated forecasts for where they see interest rates heading this year and in the long run. They earlier had penciled in three cuts to rates this year, which would relieve pressure on the economy and financial system.

Recent reports on inflation have consistently been coming in worse than expected, though. That could force the Fed to trim how many rate cuts it foresees delivering this year.

Such a move would be a sore disappointment for investors.

Across the Atlantic, the Bank of England will announce its latest decision on interest rates later in the week.

The S&P 500 added 0.6% on Monday to 5,149.42, coming off its first back-to-back weekly losses since October.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.2% to 38,790.43, and the Nasdaq composite gained 0.8% to 16,103.45. Smaller stocks in the Russell 2000 index slipped 0.7%.

On Wall Street, Nvidia rose 0.7% after paring an earlier, bigger gain as it kicked off its annual conference for developers.

A frenzy around artificial-intelligence technology on Wall Street has sent the stocks of Nvidia and other players zooming so high that critics call it a bubble. Nvidia has grown into the U.S. stock market's third-largest stock.

Other Big Tech stocks also pushed the S&P 500 upward to snap a three-day losing streak, its longest in more than two months. Alphabet rallied 4.6%, and Tesla jumped 6.3% to trim its loss for the year so far.

On the losing end was Hertz Global Holdings, which skidded 6.2% to bring its loss for the year so far to 31.6%. Its chair and CEO, Stephen Scherr, will resign at the end of March. The company named Wayne "Gil" West as its CEO. He's a former executive at Cruise, the self-driving car company, and at Delta Air Lines.

Boeing sank another 1.5% to bring its loss for the year to 31%. It's been struggling with concerns about its manufacturing quality, and its latest negative headline came on Friday. Workers found a panel missing on an older Boeing 737-800 after it arrived at its destination in southern Oregon from San Francisco.

In other trading early Tuesday, U.S. benchmark crude oil shed 21 cents to $81.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, gave up 23 cents to $86.55 per barrel.

The euro slipped to $1.0869 from $1.0872.

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