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Asian stocks stall, dollar wallops pound and yen

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SINGAPORE — Asian stocks wallowed at two-year lows on Wednesday, after a strengthening dollar, instability in the U.K. bond market, and upcoming U.S. inflation data spelled a wild session on Wall Street and further volatility for investors.

Sterling languished at a two-week trough after Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey on Tuesday reiterated that the central bank will end its emergency bond-buying program this week and told pension fund managers to finish rebalancing their positions in frame.

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“In the UK situation – they have inflation which is high, and under the Kwarteng fiscal policy package they were actually going to drive that even higher,” said Damien Boey, chief macro strategist at Barrenjoey in Sydney. “So you’re actually forcing the bank of England to do more work than it needs to – the risk premium in the gilts market goes up quite a lot.”

In Japan, the rampaging dollar breached 146 yen for the first time since 1998 prompting authorities in Tokyo to pledge necessary steps in the foreign exchange market if needed. The Nikkei share average fell 0.18%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.87%, while Seoul’s KOSPI index fell 0.41% and Australia’s resources-heavy index was up 0.05%.

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China’s CSI300 index was down 0.96% in early trade and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 1.94%.

The British financial turmoil combined with a burst of U.S. dollar strength that sent the sterling to a two-week low of 1.0949, while the risk-sensitive Australian dollar fell to $0.6247, the lowest since April 2020.

There was little good news elsewhere, either.

The International Monetary Fund cut its 2023 global growth forecast from 2.9% to 2.7%, warning that pressures from inflation, war-driven energy and food crises, and higher interest rates may tip the world into recession and financial market instability.

The BOE warned UK pensions funds and other investors to get their houses in order by Friday, when it would end a huge bond-buying program aimed at calming roller-coaster moves seen by gilts and sterling in recent days.

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The warnings, ahead of U.S. inflation data on Wednesday and Thursday that is expected to keep the Fed on an aggressive rate hike path, tanked stocks on Wall Street.

Overnight, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite fell 0.65% and 1.10%, respectively, though the Dow Jones Industrial Average managed to close up 0.12%.

Benchmark 10-year notes were at 3.9511%, after opening at 3.9510%.

Brent crude futures fell 51 cents, or 0.5%, to $93.78 a barrel by 0033 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $88.66 a barrel, down 69 cents, or 0.8%. It was the third straight dip in prices as investors worried about falling fuel demand and tightening COVID-19 curbs in China.

Spot gold dropped 0.2% to $1,661.5 an ounce.

(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Sam Holmes)

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