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Asian shares, currencies tumble on Fed anxiety

A visitor walks past logos at the TSE in TokyoEmerging Asian currencies took a battering and regional shares tumbled to six-week lows on Wednesday as mixed signals from Federal Reserve officials raised fresh concerns about an imminent rollback of the U.S. central bank’s asset-buying stimulus.

The dour mood looked set to carry over into Europe, where financial spread betters predicted Britain’s FTSE 100 to fall as much as 0.7 percent, Germany’s DAX  off 0.4 percent and France’s CAC 40  to fall 0.3 percent.

Jakarta’s Composite Index  stumbled 2 percent to a two-month low as the Indonesian rupiah hit its weakest in more than four-and-a-half years. Foreign banks sold the currency despite the central bank’s surprise rate hike in the previous session, sending it down as much as 0.7 percent to 11,670 per dollar.

The Indian rupee slumped to a two-month low after surging consumer prices sparked fears the central bank would continue to raise interest rates and undermine economic growth at a particularly vulnerable time for the currency.

The Reserve Bank of India is likely to have stepped in to prop up the rupee via state-run banks, to keep it from falling further, traders said.

“Pockets of firm U.S. data will reignite QE (quantitative easing) tapering concerns, pulling dollar higher and vulnerable Asian currencies lower,” said Radhika Rao, economist with DBS in Singapore.

“After a brief respite, the headwinds for the Indian rupee are back at the fore by way of rate tightening fears and elevated inflation,” she added.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS lost about 1.4 percent to its lowest levels in more than a month, on track to mark a fifth straight decline. Japan’s Nikkei stock average ended down 0.2 percent.

Chinese shares underperformed after the initial communiqué from a key Communist Party policy meeting to set a blueprint for the coming decade’s reform agenda offered them few concrete details.

The China Enterprises Index  of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong was down more than 2 percent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index  fell 1.4 percent.

U.S. S&P E-mini futures dipped 0.3 percent in Asian trade on Wednesday after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index posted modest losses in the previous session.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart told reporters on Tuesday that a reduction of the central bank’s quantitative easing program remains a possibility at the Federal Open Market Committee’s next policy meeting on December 17-18, although he did say policy should remain very easy.

Data on Friday showed an unexpected surge in U.S. jobs growth in October, suggesting the labor market could be strong enough for the Fed to begin to pare its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program sooner rather than later.

Global markets have been buffeted since May over speculation of an imminent end to cheap dollars, a major driver of assets in recent years. Indonesia and India, which have sizable current account deficits, seem particularly vulnerable to an exodus of capital toward more attractive dollar assets.

Signals from central bank officials have been mixed, with Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Minneapolis Fed, speaking about the need for aggressive action to foster growth.

The U.S. dollar wobbled but stuck close to recent ranges. It was off about 0.1 percent at 99.45 yen after rising as high as 99.79 yen on Tuesday, its strongest level since September 13. The dollar faces resistance at 100 yen, above which it has not traded since September 11.

The euro was slightly up from U.S. levels, holding well above lows set last week, when it suffered a heavy selloff on Thursday after the European Central Bank stunned investors by unexpectedly cutting its main rate to a record-low 0.25 percent.-Reuters