Asian shares mixed as market await vote results, price data

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian shares were mixed on Wednesday as investors awaited the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections and a major inflation update due later in the week.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.2% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong also shed 0.2%, to 16,517.04. The Shanghai Composite index edged 0.1% higher to 3,066.99, while the S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney climbed 0.7% to 7,006.70.

The Kospi in Seoul surged 1% to 2,424.02.

All eyes were on the elections, which could determine how much is done in the next several years in Washington, and possibly beyond. Markets tend to abhor uncertainty.

With Americans heading to the polls across the country amid high inflation and worries about a possible recession, analysts say investors appear to be betting that Republicans will gain control of at least one house of Congress. That combined with a Democratic White House could lead to little getting done in Washington, which may be bad for society but could also keep the status quo on economic policy.

On Wall Street, trading was tentative through the day, and Wall Street’s benchmark index flipped between an even bigger gain and a modest loss during the afternoon.

The S&P 500 rose 0.6% to 3,828.11, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 1% to 33,160.83 and the Nasdaq composite gained 0.5%, to 10,616.20.

If Republicans do end up wining control of at least the House of Representatives, the ensuing reaction in financial markets could be modest, according to economists at Goldman Sachs. Stocks have already rallied in anticipation of it, with two straight gains of at least 1% before Election Day. But a surprise win by Democrats could upset the market if it leads investors to expect higher corporate taxes and other policy changes.

But a Republican win could also mean less help from Congress during a possible recession than under a Congress controlled by Democrats. And economists are forecasting a sharp downturn in coming months as interest rate hikes meant to tame inflation put the brakes on business activity and spending.

The important milestone for markets this week than U.S. Election Day may be Thursday’s report on inflation, which will affect the swift interest-rate hikes the Federal Reserve is pushing through to get it under control.

By raising rates, the Fed is intentionally slowing the economy by making it more expensive to borrow money. High rates also tend to drag down prices for stocks and other investments while raising the risk of a recession.

The Fed has already hiked its key overnight rate to a range of 3.75% to 4%, up from virtually zero in March, and more investors are expecting it to top 5% next year.

A softer reading than expected on Thursday could give the Fed leeway to loosen up a bit. Economists expect the report to show a continued, slight moderation from a peak set during the summer. But a worse-than-expected reading could have the opposite effect.

Stocks are also moving on corporate profit reports, as earnings season enters its tail end. Take-Two Interactive sank 13.7% after reporting weaker results for the latest quarter than expected.

Shares of companies entwined with the cryptocurrency economy also fell sharply, with Coinbase Global losing 10.8% and Robinhood Markets falling 19%.

They dropped with crypto prices after the world’s biggest crypto exchange by daily volume, Binance, said it intends to buy one of its bigger rivals, FTX.

Binance is making the purchase to help FTX manage a crunch where users have been pulling money out amid fears about its financial strength. It’s the latest crisis of confidence to slam the crypto industry this year, as prices have tumbled in part on worries about higher interest rates.

Bitcoin at one point sank below $17,500 before pulling back to $18,267, down 12.2% from a day earlier, according to CoinDesk.

In other trading Wednesday, U.S. benchmark crude oil gave up 19 cents to $88.72 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent crude, the international pricing standard, lost 9 cents to $95.27 per barrel in London.

The dollar slipped to 145.31 Japanese yen from 145.34 yen. The euro rose to $1.0082 from $1.0074.

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