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US stock futures rally as Fed acts to stabilise banks

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan is holding steady as investors ponder the consequences of US measures to limit the SVB fallout.

Japan Financial Markets Japan's Nikkei has fallen 1.1 per cent in choppy trade, while South Korea has added 0.1 per cent.
March 13, 2023
13 March 2023

US stock futures have rallied in Asian trade as authorities announce plans to limit the fallout from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), while investors wager future hikes in US rates will now be less aggressive.

In a joint statement, the US Treasury and Federal Reserve announced a range of measures to stabilise the banking system and said depositors at SVB would have access to their deposits on Monday.

The Fed said it would make additional funding available through a new Bank Term Funding Program, which would offer loans up to one year to depository institutions, backed by Treasuries and other assets these institutions hold.

The moves came as authorities took possession of New York-based Signature Bank, the second bank failure in a matter of days.

Analysts noted that, importantly, the Fed would accept collateral at par rather than marking to market, allowing banks to borrow funds without having to sell assets at a loss.

“These are strong moves,” said Paul Ashworth, head of North American economics at Capital Economics.

“Rationally, this should be enough to stop any contagion from spreading and taking down more banks, which can happen in the blink of an eye in the digital age,” he said. 

“But contagion has always been more about irrational fear, so we would stress that there is no guarantee this will work.”

Investors reacted by sending US S&P 500 stock futures up 1.2 per cent, while Nasdaq futures rose 1.3 per cent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan held steady as investors pondered the consequences for regional markets.

Japan’s Nikkei fell 1.1 per cent in choppy trade, while South Korea added 0.1 per cent.

Such was the concern about financial stability, that investors speculated the Fed would now be reluctant to rock the boat by hiking interest rates by a super-sized 50 basis points this month.

Fed fund futures surged in early trading to imply only a 17 per cent chance of a half-point hike, compared to about 70 per cent before the SVB news broke last week.

The peak for rates came all the way back to 5.14 per cent, from 5.69 per cent, last Wednesday, and markets were even pricing in rate cuts by the end of the year.

That, combined with the shift to safety, saw yields on two-year Treasuries fall further to 4.51 per cent, a world away from last week’s 5.08 per cent peak.

Longer-dated yields, however, edged up as the curve steepened.

“Accelerating your pace of hikes in the face of a significant bank failure may not be the wisest play for the Fed, especially if subsequent problems emerge stemming from similar root causes – underwater rates portfolios,” said John Briggs, global head of economics at NatWest Markets.

Still, much will depend on what US consumer price figures reveal on Tuesday, with an obvious risk that a high reading will pile pressure on the Fed to hike aggressively even with the financial system under strain.

The European Central Bank meets on Thursday and is still widely expected to lift its rates by 50 basis points and to flag more tightening ahead, though it will now have to take financial stability into account.

In currency markets, the dollar dipped 0.3 per cent on the safe-haven Japanese yen to 134.63, although that was well off its early low. 

The dollar eased 0.4 per cent on the Swiss franc, while the euro firmed 0.4 per cent to $1.0690 as short-term US yields dropped.

Gold climbed 0.6 per cent to $1,879 an ounce, having jumped two per cent on Friday.

Oil prices edged higher, with Brent up 10 cents at $82.88 a barrel, while US crude rose 26 cents to $76.94 per barrel.

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