Asian markets lower on rate fears, G7 tech tax plan


US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reacts at Lancaster House during a finance ministers’ meeting ahead of the G7 Summit, in London, Britain June 5, 2021. Rob Pinney/Pool via Reuters/File

HONG KONG – Asian markets were mostly lower Monday as comments by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stoked concerns over a hike in interest rates while investors also mulled the impact of the G7 global tax plan on tech giants.

Yellen told Bloomberg News that President Joe Biden should push ahead with his $4 trillion recovery plan for the world’s top economy even if it triggers inflation and leads to higher interest rates.

While optimism about the global economic recovery and vaccine rollouts have spurred markets, trading floors remain worried that the rebound will stoke inflation and in turn force central banks to hike interest rates.

Yellen said any rise in prices due to Biden’s massive plan to revitalise the US economy would be transitory and that higher interest rates would actually be positive.

“If we ended up with a slightly higher interest rate environment, it would actually be a plus for society’s point of view and the Fed’s point of view,” the former Federal Reserve chair said in an interview Sunday with Bloomberg.

“We’ve been fighting inflation that’s too low and interest rates that are too low now for a decade,” she said, adding she wanted them back to a normal level.

Yellen was speaking after returning from a meeting of G7 finance ministers in London which endorsed a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent, rallying behind a US-backed plan targeting tech giants and other multinationals accused of not paying enough.

Wall Street posted solid gains, with all three main indexes closing higher Friday after a tepid jobs report eased concerns the expanding economy would force the Fed to pull back on stimulus.

The optimism faded in Asia, with markets mostly lower in Monday trade.

Hong Kong was down 0.80 percent, Shanghai slipped 0.2 percent and Sydney was also off 0.2 percent.

Tokyo and Seoul were both up 0.2 percent.

“Japan’s Nikkei was the big underperformer last week, but the solid lead from the US suggests Japan is likely to enjoy a positive start to the new week,” said Rodrigo Catril, senior FX market strategist at National Australia Bank.

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