Global stock markets were trading broadly higher Wednesday, as investors took heart from a markedly dovish stance by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen. However, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index closed down 1.3 percent amid concerns that a stronger yen would hurt exporters in the country.
U.S. stock futures also pointed to a gain in the stock markets later in the day, with S&P 500 futures and Dow Jones futures both trading up 0.6 percent and Nasdaq futures rising 0.7 percent.
“Janet Yellen said what the market wanted to hear,” Rebecca O’Keeffe, head of investment at the stockbroker Interactive Investor, told the Wall Street Journal. “Her comments should be favorable for markets but she’ll need to be backed by other members of the FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee], who’ve up to now suggested a much more hawkish tone.”
On Tuesday, during a speech at the Economic Club of New York, the Fed chairwoman reiterated that though the central bank still plans to raise its key rates, it would be done in a gradual and cautious manner after taking into account global “headwinds” that the U.S. economy is facing.
“If these headwinds gradually fade as I expect, the neutral federal funds rate will also rise, in which case it will, all else equal, be appropriate to gradually increase the federal funds rate more or less in tandem,” Yellen said.
On Wednesday, Yellen’s caution translated into a rally in emerging stock markets, as investors’ worries that global currencies would weaken against the dollar dissipated.
China’s Shanghai Composite Index closed up 2.7 percent, while the much smaller Shenzhen Composite ended the day up 3.6 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, South Korea’s Kospi Index and India’s S&P BSE Sensex also advanced Wednesday.
“Asian markets should continue to outperform the U.S. markets in any environment that the dollar is moderating,” Brett Ewing, chief market strategist at First Franklin Financial Services, told the Journal.
European stocks were also trading in the positive territory Wednesday, despite a European Commission survey indicating that economic confidence in the 19-nation eurozone had dropped to a 13-month low. The economic sentiment indicator survey, conducted before last week’s attacks in Brussels, showed that the closely watched gauge had dropped to 103 in March, down 0.9 points from February.
“The continued drop in the economic sentiment clouds the view of an improving eurozone economy in March,” Bert Colijn, an economist at ING in Amsterdam, told Bloomberg. “This means that even though economic sentiment in the eurozone is still well above its long-term average, the overall declines in survey indicators hint at somewhat weaker GDP growth this quarter than in the fourth quarter.”
However, the survey’s findings failed to dampen investor sentiment in Europe, where the pan-European Stoxx 600 rose 1.4 percent in early trade.