Japanese stocks drop as central bank disappoints on stimulus

HONG KONG – Japanese stocks tumbled and the yen surged Thursday after the central bank dashed investors’ hopes for more stimulus, while other Asian benchmarks were mixed after the Fed left interest rates unchanged.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index erased earlier gains, falling 3.6 per cent to 16,666.05. South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.7 per cent to 2,000.93 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.4 per cent to 21,437.78. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China lost 1.0 per cent to 2,925.45 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.7 per cent to 5,289.40. Taiwan’s benchmark, New Zealand’s rose and in Southeast Asia they were mixed.

JAPAN POLICY: Investors were disappointed by the Bank of Japan’s decision not to add to its huge economic stimulus program. Policymakers left interest rates and an asset purchase program untouched, though they did give some extra relief for earthquake recovery programs. Hopes for more stimulus for Asia’s No. 2 economy had risen after the latest official figures revealed weak inflation and consumer spending for March even as factory output rose, indicating lack of confidence among households whose buying power holds the key to sustained growth.

MARKET INSIGHT: “This shows that too much expectation of further easing had been priced in and the BOJ has surprised the market by taking no action,” Margaret Yang, an analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, said in a commentary. “It is probable that the central bank is temporarily running out of tools to stimulate the economy, or they need more time to observe and assess the impact of negative interest rates.”

FED ON HOLD : Earlier, the U.S. central bank offered few surprises for investors in its latest policy statement, saying it would keep a key interest rate unchanged while revealing no clues as to when its next rate hike might occur. The Fed said that the United States is seeing solid job gains while noting economic activity appears to be slowing and expressed less alarm about the global economy than it had at its previous meeting in March.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell 2.6 per cent against the yen after the central bank statement, sliding to 108.61 yen from 111.53 yen. The euro strengthened to $1.1352 from $1.1325.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks had a mixed finish. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 0.3 per cent to 18,041.55. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.2 per cent to 2,095.15. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 0.5 per cent to 4,863.14.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell after hitting its highest level this year, slipping 36 cents to $44.97 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.29, or 2.9 per cent, to settle at $45.33 a barrel on Wednesday, which was its highest price since December. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 62 cents to $46.56 a barrel in London.