Stocks slip, dollar firm ahead of Jackson Hole conference

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SINGAPORE: Asian stock markets slipped for an eighth straight session on Wednesday, with investors nervous about the scale of problems in China's property sector and bracing for a hawkish message from the Federal Reserve at this week's Jackson Hole symposium.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5%, while Japan's Nikkei fell by the same margin. The U.S. dollar lurked just below milestone highs on most major currencies and near a 20-year peak on the euro.

Wall Street had steadied on Tuesday after two days of heavy losses, as soft U.S. data tempered rate-hike worries, but S&P 500 futures were squeezed 0.2% lower in Asia, while FTSE futures and European futures also fell a bit.

Late on Tuesday, Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari was the latest official to reiterate the Fed's focus on controlling inflation ahead of all else, and traders expect something similar from Fed Chair Jerome Powell who speaks from Wyoming on Friday.

"It might be more sensible for (Powell) to just come in with a flat, 'Right at the moment all we care about is getting inflation down'," ING economist Rob Carnell said.

"Bond yields would rise a little bit further, having the desired effect...and then you can start easing (later)."

Traders have been raising their expectations on where the Fed funds rate might peak, with current pricing pointing toward around 3.7% in the middle of 2023.

A recent run of softer U.S. economic news however, has seen short-dated Treasury yields steady after climbing throughout August.

U.S. services and manufacturing surveys disappointed on Tuesday and July new home sales fell to a 6-1/2 year low.

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Two-year yields held at 3.307% on Wednesday and 10-year yields fell 2 basis points (bps) to 3.0332%.

CHINA SLIDE

The U.S. dollar, which has gained support from higher interest rate expectations, has also benefited from the poor comparative outlook in other parts of the world.

In Europe, benchmark gas prices have tripled in a little over two months, and a winter of unreliable energy supplies from Russia looms.

Expected damage to growth and higher inflation has the euro languishing. On Wednesday it bought $0.9956 after falling as far as $0.99005 on Tuesday.

In China, meanwhile, property stocks fell as earnings brought another reminder of the deep hole that developers are in without access to easy credit. An index of Hong Kong listed builders fell 2.5% to a 10-year low.

"People are still trying to understand the full extent of the detrimental effects as it has multiple repercussions," said Samuel Siew, a market specialist at CGS-CIMB in Singapore.

"It's still very hard to actually measure the entire severity of the situation. That is what markets are trying to decipher, and whether ongoing support is sufficient."

The Hang Seng index fell 1.3% on Wednesday, as did the Shanghai Composite, while the yuan fell sharply despite state media publishing articles saying there is no basis for a long-term drop.

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