Global stock markets waver as Fed decision on raising interest rates nears

SEOUL, South Korea – Global stock markets wavered Thursday ahead of the Federal Reserve’s announcement on whether it would raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

KEEPING SCORE: Europe was off to a tepid start with Britain’s FTSE 100 down 0.4 per cent to 6,205.60. France’s CAC 40 dipped 0.2 per cent to 4,631.50. Germany’s DAX was nearly unchanged at 10,222.81. Futures showed that Wall Street was set to lose ground. Dow futures fell 0.2 per cent. S&P 500 futures dropped 0.3 per cent.

HIKE OR NO HIKE: Two months ago, it seemed almost certain that the Fed was going to raise rates in September. Now, after the turmoil in financial markets and concerns about China’s economy, there are more investors who believe that the Fed will wait until December to raise rates. The Fed started its two-day policy meeting Wednesday and will announce its decision Thursday afternoon. Interest rates have been near zero since 2008 in response to the financial crisis and Great Recession. The Fed’s low interest rate policy was designed to encourage lending, but it also helped drive a seven-year bull market in stocks.

MONETARY MOVES: Some analysts said the recent advances in stock markets are driven by expectations that central banks around the world may do more to support economic growth. Some economists expect the Bank of Japan will increase its asset purchase program and a number of European Central Bank members have talked up the prospect of additional asset purchases.

ANALYST QUOTE: IG market analyst Angus Nicholson says there is “cautious positioning ahead of the Fed rates decision, with currency moves in particular reflecting the general feeling that rates will be left unchanged.”

ASIA’S DAY: Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 advanced 1.4 per cent to 18,432.27 and South Korea’s Kospi closed up 0.1 per cent at 1,976.49. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.9 per cent to 5,146.80. Markets in Southeast Asia were also higher but China’s Shanghai Composite Index closed down 2.1 per cent at 3,086.06 after volatile trading. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index declined 0.5 per cent to 21,854.63.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude edged down 39 cents at $46.76 per barrel on electronic trading in New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $2.56, or 5.7 per cent, to close at $47.15 per barrel on Wednesday after a steeper-than-expected drop in crude inventories. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, lost 32 cents to $50.20 per barrel in London after a 4-per cent jump in the previous session.

CURRENCIES: Emerging market currencies posted gains against the dollar. The dollar fell 0.4 per cent against the South Korean won and 0.1 per cent against the Indonesian rupiah. Among major currency pairs, the dollar strengthened to 120.91 yen from 120.56 yen on Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1328 from $1.1289.