Hong Kong stocks fall 2% as Fed's Powell hints at more rate hikes ahead

This is CNBC's live blog covering Asia-Pacific markets.

Buildings shrouded in fog in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hong Kong shares dropped more than 2% after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell cautioned that interest rates may need to be higher than expected, fueling concerns of a potentially larger hike at the next policy meeting.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index lost 2.35% in its final hour of trade, led by consumer cyclicals, healthcare, and basic materials stocks, leading losses in the region. Mainland China's Shanghai Composite dropped fractionally to close at 3,283.25 and the Shenzhen Component traded down nearly 0.1% lower to end its session at 11,598.29.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.77% to 7,307.8 as investors digested Reserve Bank of Australia's governor Philip Lowe's speech after the bank's 25 basis point hike on Tuesday.

South Korea's Kospi fell 1.28% to 2,431.91. Japan's Nikkei 225's added 0.48% to close at 28,444.19 and the Topix inched up 0.3% to close at 2,051.21.

Overnight in the U.S., major stock indexes fell following Powell's comments that should the strength of the latest economic data warrant a faster tightening, the Fed would be "prepared to increase the pace of rate hikes."

Asia technology stocks fall after Powell comments

Shares of Asia technology companies saw sharp declines Wednesday following U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's comments.

The Hang Seng Tech index was 3.7% lower in the afternoon session, with falling 4.7% and Alibaba trading 3.56% lower.

In South Korea, SK Innovation and SK Hynix also fell 3% and 2.47% respectively, with Samsung Electronics also traded 0.82% lower.

Taiwan-listed shares of  Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) and MediaTek also fell in Taipei.

— Jihye Lee

VinFast CEO upbeat on long-term electric vehicle demand

VinFast CEO is positive on the long-term demand of Electronic Vehicles, even amidst an increasingly competitive industry which saw rivals like Tesla slashing prices to attract more customers.

"I think everyone agrees that the whole industry or the whole world is moving from internal combustion engine to EVs," CEO Le Thi Thu Thuy said on CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Tuesday.

She added that there is "a lot of room" for many players in the market, and that VinFast is entering the market with clear strategies such as offering premium quality and access for the mass market without any compromise on cybersecurity and functional safety.

—Sheila Chiang, Lee Ying Shan

CNBC Pro: Strategists say it’s a stock picker’s market right now — and name their top picks

Stocks have broadly rallied from their 2022 lows this year, but veteran investor Nancy Tengler believes "there's still plenty of places" to find high-quality stocks with rising dividends and reliable earnings growth.

She says investors should be careful about where they put their money to work — a view echoed by several market pros.

Pro subscribers can read more here.

— Zavier Ong

Thailand could pause on rate hikes in May: Citi

Thailand may put the brakes on interest rate hikes in May, Citi analysts wrote in a daily note.

It added there is a possibility of "a split vote" among the monetary policy committee members on 29 March, and "a potential pause in rate hike in May."

Thailand's headline inflation for February rose 3.79% year on year, official data showed, lower than a 4.18% increase according to analysts polled by Reuters.

Citi expects that there would still be a policy rate hike of 25 basis points at its next meeting.

—Lee Ying Shan

Hong Kong stocks fall in first hour of trade, led by consumer cyclicals

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Hang Seng Index

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed more than 2% in the first hour of trade, led by consumer cyclicals, health-care, basic materials and technology stocks.

Property stocks also saw sharp losses, including Longfor Group Holdings that dropped 4.59%, Country Garden that shed 4.56%.

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi fell more than 4% and NetEase shed more than 3%.

— Jihye Lee

Oil prices inch higher after OPEC says Russian oil production found 'new homes'

Oil prices traded slightly higher after OPEC's Secretary-General's assertion that Russia's oil production remained strong, with new export partners in the midst.

"Russian production has been resilient, and it has managed to find new homes," he said. "It is not just China and India, I think it is also Turkey," OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais said during a CERAWEEK conference held by S&P Global.

Brent crude futures last traded higher 0.23% to $83.48 a barrel, while the U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures inched up 0.06% to $77.63 a barrel.

—Lee Ying Shan

Singapore tech giant Sea's stock rises after posting its first-ever profit

U.S.-listed stocks of Singapore-based tech giant Sea jumped 21.78% after reporting its first-ever quarterly profit in its latest earnings report on Tuesday.

"Recent cost-cutting measures like freezing salaries and employee headcount has given Sea's stock some much needed reprieve," said Jonathan Woo, senior research analyst at Phillip Securities.

Sea had seen billions of losses in previous years.

The firm delivered a positive net income of $422.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2022 from cost improvements, up from negative $616.3 million in the same period a year ago.

"The positive surprise in fourth-quarter 2022 earnings should provide continued upward momentum for Sea – especially with the path to profitability slightly clearer," said Woo.

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Sea Limited's stock performance

— Sheila Chiang

China saw weaker imports despite rapid reopening: UBS

China's economy saw weaker imports despite its rapid reopening, UBS' head of China economic research Wang Tao said in a note.

"Despite a rapid reopening (sequentially) in the past 2 months, domestic demand growth on y/y basis may have been still relatively soft," she said in a note.

She added the import volume of copper ore and iron ore both improved from December likely due to a pick up in construction activities.

"Our channel checks suggest that work resumption of construction sector was slow in the first two weeks post CNY holiday, but accelerated in the 3rd and 4th weeks," she said, noting that crude oil import growth also fell alongside imports of IT components and auto products.

China on Tuesday saw exports fall by 6.8% in February in U.S. dollar terms and imports also declined 10.2%.

— Jihye Lee

U.S. plans to lift Covid testing requirement for travelers from China: NBC

The U.S. plans to scrap Covid testing requirements for travelers coming from China, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The requirements, which applied regardless of nationality and vaccination status, started Jan. 5.

"Since the implementation of the policy, we have evidence that cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are declining in the [People Republic of China] and we have gathered better information about the surge," the person told NBC, adding that the U.S. will continue to monitor cases in China and around the world.

The Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance Program will still be kept in place, and will continue to monitor flights from China and regional transportation hubs, NBC reported.

— NBC News, Lee Ying Shan

Japan's current account surplus fell in January

Japan's seasonally adjusted current account balance rose to 216.3 billion yen ($1.57 billion) in January, government data showed on Wednesday.

The surplus in balance saw a sharp drop from December's balance of 1.18 trillion yen and November's balance of 1.92 trillion yen.

The Japanese yen slightly weakened on Wednesday morning to 137.46 against the U.S. dollar

— Jihye Lee

Reserve Bank of Australia reiterates they are closer to pausing rates

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe in a speech on Wednesday said the central bank is closer to reaching a point to pause further interest rates hikes.

"With monetary policy now in restrictive territory, we are closer to the point where it will be appropriate to pause interest rate increases to allow more time to assess the state of the economy," he said, according to a transcript.

"At what point it will be appropriate to pause will be determined by the data and our assessment of the outlook," said Lowe.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia's senior economist Belinda Allen said in a note that the speech did not reverse Tuesday's statement that carried less hawkish tones.

Allen added that CBA expects the central bank to hike once more before pausing to 3.85% or to hold rates in the upcoming April monetary policy meeting.

— Jihye Lee

Key part of the yield curve hasn't been this inverted since 1981

The gap between the 2-year Treasury yield and the 10-year Treasury rate widened to 100 basis points during Tuesday's trading. This spread has not settled at levels this wide since September 22, 1981.

The 2-year yield jumped to its highest since 2007 after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank may need to increase the pace of interest rate hikes again.

The yield curve inversion is a phenomenon that for half a century has accurately signaled coming recessions.

— Yun Li

Key Powell remarks for the market

There were two key quotes in the Congressional testimony of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as far as markets were concerned.

"The latest economic data have come in stronger than expected, which suggests that the ultimate level of interest rates is likely to be higher than previously anticipated," Powell said in prepared remarks.

This means the Fed may keep raising for longer than the market anticipated. Many wanted the Fed to stop hiking soon.

"If the totality of the data were to indicate that faster tightening is warranted, we would be prepared to increase the pace of rate hikes," Powell also said.

The Fed's last hike was just a quarter point as it slowed the pace. Powell is hinting here the Fed may need to speed back up, which is a big fear of the markets.

— John Melloy

CNBC Pro: This ETF only invests in women-led companies — and is expected to rise 20% this year

A U.S.-listed ETF is only investing in companies that are led by women, with the belief that the "female factor" outperforms.

The ETF was created after its fund manager, who has a background in investment banking and private equity, observed that institutional barriers to female candidates for top positions have meant that those who do succeed have had to perform at a higher level, resulting in better overall performance.

The ETF is based on an index that has outperformed its benchmark by over 20% over the past five years.

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— Ganesh Rao

CNBC Pro: Tesla a 'screaming buy' or bellwether for zombie stocks? The bulls and bears state their case

All eyes were on Tesla last week as it held its investor day, where it unveiled its plans ahead.

The company is going all out to stoke consumer demand, continuing to cut prices and teasing a cheaper, next-generation model.

Over the year so far, Tesla shares are up around 57%, but looking ahead, analysts are divided on the company's prospects.

Here's what the bulls and the bears are saying about the world's biggest EV maker.

— Weizhen Tan

Meta stock rises following news of fresh layoffs

Meta is planning another round of layoffs that could affect thousands of workers as soon as this week, according to a Bloomberg News report published Monday evening.

The job cuts come after the company laid off 13% of its workforce in November as part of a major cost-cutting plan. CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously told investors that 2023 would be the "year of efficiency" for the company. 

Meta shares gained 1.5% during premarket trading on Tuesday following the news. 

— Hakyung Kim