Asian markets fall as Fed signals ‘downshift’ in economy

Shares fell in Asia on Thursday after further losses on Wall Street following a Federal Reserve report showing U.S. economic activity slowed this summer.

The report pointed to resurgent coronavirus cases and mounting supply chain problems and labor shortages — woes affecting many economies. Benchmarks fell in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney.

Japan extended its emergency measures to combat COVID-19 outbreaks until the end of September, as numbers of new cases have been declining only slowly, straining the healthcare system.

Chinese markets have been chilled by further moves by the government to strengthen controls over online businesses that thrived during the pandemic.

In another development, ratings agencies say Evergrande Group, one of China’s biggest real estate developers, looks increasingly likely to default on its debts following news reports it will delay interest payments on bank loans. The company is selling assets to raise cash and faces complaints it is late in paying contractors and in delivering projects to customers.

Ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch cut their ratings on Evergrande debt this week to a level that indicates they believe the company is likely to default on bond payments due to lack of cash. Chinese authorities are trying to reduce high debt levels in the economy and have urged Evergrande to resolve its more than $300 billion in debt, but financial analysts to suggest they might allow a default while trying to reduce its impact on the financial system.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225

fell 0.5%. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng

lost 1.2%, while the Shanghai Composite index

edged 0.1% lower. In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200

declined 1.2%, and the Kospi

in Seoul slid 0.9%. Shares fell in Taiwan

but rose in Singapore

and Indonesia

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.33% after rising sharply on Tuesday to 1.37%.

The Federal Reserve’s latest survey of the nation’s business conditions, dubbed the “Beige Book,” said U.S. economic activity “downshifted” in July and August.

The Fed said the slowdown was largely attributable to a pullback in dining out, travel and tourism in most parts of the country, reflecting concerns about the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

The S&P 500

fell 5.96 points to 4,514.07, which is 0.5% below the all-time high the index set last Thursday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

fell 0.2%, to 35,031.07, and the Nasdaq composite

slid 0.6% to 2,249.73. The tech-heavy index’s decline ended a four-day winning streak.

Investors could be in for a choppy market through September as they monitor the Federal Reserve and Washington, which has to deal with budget reconciliation, infrastructure spending and the debt ceiling.

On the bright side, U.S. employers posted record job openings for the second consecutive month in July, according to the Labor Department. The disconnect between the growing number of job openings and the weak recovery for employment levels suggests the jobs issue could be crimping the broader economic recovery.

In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil

rose 5 cents to $68.35 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained 95 cents on Wednesday, to $69.30 per barrel.

Brent crude
the international benchmark for pricing, picked up 9 cents to $72.69 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar

slipped to 110.16 Japanese yen from 110.25 yen.