Markets tread water as they await Powell testimony

February 27, 2018

A currency trader watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Asian markets mostly extended gains on Tuesday after Wall Street finished higher overnight. The upcoming Federal Reserve chair's testimony at U.S. Congress later in the day, his first public appearance as chair of the Fed, was in focus. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

LONDON (AP) — Global stock markets were little changed Tuesday ahead of the new Federal Reserve chair’s testimony to Congress later. Given that Jerome Powell has yet to chair a policymaking meeting, anything he says on the U.S. economic outlook and the likely path of U.S. interest rate could stir markets out of their current torpor.

KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 was flat at added 0.1 percent to 7,288 while France’s CAC 40 fell 0.1 percent to 5,342. Germany’s DAX underperformed its peers, trading 0.3 percent lower at 12,484. Wall Street was poised for modest losses at the open with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.1 percent.

FED WATCH: How U.S. stock markets perform could hinge on what Powell says in his testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. In December, the Fed forecast that it would raise rates three times in 2018, but many think it may accelerate that pace. Investors will also want to know whether Powell is becoming convinced that the Fed is finally on the verge of achieving its 2 percent inflation target and if so, whether it might soon feel the need to speed up its rate increases.

ANALYST TAKE: “the feeling so far is that Powell is unlikely to diverge from the current path which would imply three rate hikes this year but with the economy strengthening and tax reform potentially providing additional stimulus, a fourth hike may be warranted this year and along with additional increases further down the road,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA. “The market seems quite well positioned on this at the moment which may reduce the likelihood of significant shocks, although we’ve seen how vulnerable markets have shown themselves to be in recent weeks.”

SKY HIGH: The big corporate news Tuesday came in London where Comcast, the owner of NBC and Universal Pictures, launched a bid for British pay TV broadcaster Sky that threatens to thwart the takeover ambitions of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The firm is offering 22.1 billion pounds ($29.50 billion) for Sky. The proposed cash offer values each Sky share at 12.50 pounds, which represents a 16 percent premium to the bid made by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. Sky’s shares rallied 21 percent.

THE QUOTE: “The stock has soared to its highest level since 2000 in response although the hefty premium that it currently trades above the proposed offer shows that the market is expecting higher bids in the future,” said David Cheetham, chief market analyst at XTB.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan outperformed the region, with its benchmark Nikkei 225 jumping 1.1 percent to 22,389.86. South Korea’s Kospi finished 0.1 percent lower at 2,456.14. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dropped 0.7 percent to 31,268.66, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index slumped 1.1 percent to 3,292.07. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.2 percent to 6,056.90.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 19 cents to $63.72 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange while. Brent crude, the international standard, declined 3 cents to $67.26 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The euro was flat at $1.2319 while the dollar rose 0.1 percent to 108.04 yen.

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