The yen sank back past 131 per dollar after the Bank of Japan left monetary policy unchanged

Hong Kong (AFP) - Asian markets rose Wednesday to maintain their strong start to the year, with Tokyo soaring and the yen tumbling after the Bank of Japan decided against further tweaking monetary policy.

Weak earnings from banking titan Goldman Sachs, a jobs warning by Microsoft, and a plunge in manufacturing data highlighted the bumpy road ahead for the United States, the world’s top economy, even as optimism over inflation and the interest rate outlook improved.

Still, hopes for China’s recovery continued to provide much-needed support, with Vice Premier Liu He telling the Davos forum that growth will likely rebound this year as the country reopens from zero-Covid while adding that Covid infections had peaked.

His comments came after data showed the economy expanded last year at its slowest pace since 1976 – excluding pandemic-hit 2020 – but beat forecasts.

The news added to hopes for a global recovery after last year’s pain caused by rising prices, rate hikes, China’s economic woes, a spike in energy costs and the war in Ukraine.

“Last fall, there was broad consensus that China was in the wrong place, Europe was slipping into a recession, and the Fed was ultimately caught ‘wrong-footed’ by very sticky inflation,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.

“But fast-forward to these early weeks of January, and China’s reopening has put the country on a path to much better growth, investors are far more optimistic about Europe’s recovery, and the bane of all ills US inflation is even starting to recede.”

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Wellington, Manila, Bangkok, Mumbai and Jakarta were all on the rise, though Seoul dipped.

Tokyo was the standout, however, piling on more than two percent after the Bank of Japan left its key policy rate unchanged.

But the yen tumbled from around 128.50 per dollar to more than 131 Wednesday after the move. It also tumbled against the euro and sterling.

Traders had been keenly anticipating the decision, which came after the BoJ last month shocked markets by announcing a tweak that allowed its tightly controlled bond yields to move in a wider bracket.

Clifford Bennett, chief economist at ACY Securities, said the decision indicated the BoJ was “acting appropriately in what is still an uncertain economic growth path, and still low inflation levels”.

While other central banks have hiked rates, “Japan has long been a different story and remains so”, he added in a note.

The move in December sent the yen soaring, and while the bank held firm Wednesday, there is a growing expectation that officials will eventually move away from the policy of buying up bonds to keep yields in check.

“Speculation will remain that it will eventually review its policy,” said Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at Nomura Research Institute and a former BoJ policy board member.

“Market focus will now shift to the appointment of a new governor,” he told AFP, noting that the bank needs to “make its policy flexible” whoever is appointed.

However, other observers said if the BoJ continued to stick to its position, the Japanese unit could fall back to around 135 per dollar.

The strategy has been in place for years as the BoJ has attempted to boost the stuttering economy by keeping borrowing costs low, but with other central banks hiking rates, the yen came under immense pressure and hit a three-decade low of around 152 per dollar in October.

- Key figures around 0520 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 2.5 percent at 26,790.52

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.2 percent at 21,616.17

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,228.60

Dollar/yen: UP at 131.40 yen from 128.13 yen on Tuesday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0772 from $1.0794

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2283 from $1.2285

Euro/pound: DOWN at 87.70 pence from 87.85 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.9 percent at $80.89 a barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.8 percent at $86.58 a barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 1.1 percent at 33,910.85 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,851.03 (close)