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Markets were skittish as growing geopolitical tensions rattled stocks and oil. And minutes from the March FOMC meeting showed most officials leaning toward a faster pace of hikes as a trade war poses risks. Here are some of the things people in markets are talking about.
Geopolitics Front of Mind for Investors
President Donald Trump is still weighing options for U.S. military action against Syria and will meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday, after warning Russia on Twitter to expect a missile barrage. “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart,’” the president tweeted Wednesday. Trump has not yet settled on a plan. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said it intercepted a ballistic missile over Riyadh and shot down two drones in another part of the country on Wednesday, in the latest attacks by Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels showing improved military capabilities.
Stocks Spooked, Oil Spikes
Stocks were lower amid escalating tensions in the Middle East. The dollar pared losses after the release of the Fed’s March minutes to trade little changed. Oil hit a three-year high, with futures jumping as much as 3 percent on Wednesday amid the geopolitical turmoil. A U.S. government report on expanding domestic oil inventories barely fazed traders caught up in the rush of world events. The ruble’s rout — triggered by the most punitive U.S. penalties yet — deepened after Trump's warning. The currency slumped to a 16-month low and yields on local debt surged to the highest level this year. As Asia trading gets going, the Bank of Korea’s policy decision will take center stage, while Singapore retail sales and Indian CPI and industrial output will also garner interest.
China Opening Up
For global investment banks, the long wait for a more level playing field in China is finally drawing to a close. China on Wednesday detailed a timeline to further open parts of its financial sector by June 30, easing concern that the historic move would be derailed by escalating trade tensions amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to impose more tariffs. Additional easing, like giving foreign securities firms freer rein to enter new businesses, will follow by year-end. The country is also considering a relaxation of stock-index futures trading curbs that were introduced during the nation’s 2015 market crash, people familiar said.
Fed Eyes Faster Pace
Federal Reserve officials leaned toward a slightly faster pace of tightening at their March meeting as their growth outlook and confidence in hitting inflation targets strengthened, according to minutes released Wednesday. “The appropriate path for the federal funds rate over the next few years would likely be slightly steeper than they had previously expected,” the FOMC said in its March minutes. Most Fed officials penciled in two or three more moves this year, and didn't see a significant effect from steel and aluminum tariffs.
Aluminum’s Iran-Style Crisis
The aluminum market is having its own Iran oil moment. Similar to how U.S. and European sanctions in 2012 cut Iran’s oil sales to the world, last week’s American penalties on Rusal look set to freeze the Russian company’s aluminum out of western markets. The reaction has already been severe: prices are up more than 10 percent and the world’s biggest metals exchange will stop accepting new supplies from Rusal, which accounts for 6 percent of global output of the metal. Glencore on Wednesday declared force majeure on some aluminum contracts as a result of the sanctions, people familiar said.
What we’ve been reading
This is what caught our eye over the last 24 hours.
- Hong Kong’s dollar hits the weak end of its trading band.
- China’s ball of money rolls to bonds.
- Ant is worth more than Goldman with $150 billion valuation.
- Zuckerberg at Congress: Day 2.
- North Korea’s tuberculosis epidemic is poised to explode.
- Trump’s trade war poses a dilemma for Europe.
- This solar highway can recharge electric cars on the move.
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