HONG KONG: Asian markets were mixed Thursday as rising inflation fears were tempered by a report that teetering Chinese property giant Evergrande had once again avoided a default after meeting bond-payment deadlines.
US investors ran for cover and the dollar soared after a forecast-beating read on the consumer price index, which hit a 31-year high last month, putting fresh pressure on the Federal Reserve to act to prevent inflation running out of control.
The surge -- which came a day after a report showing producer prices accelerating -- was fanned by a spike in the cost of various items, particularly gasoline, autos and food prices, and ramped up expectations the central bank will be forced to tighten monetary policy quicker than hoped.
While Fed officials insist the jump will be temporary as the global economy slowly returns to a semblance of normality next year, observers warned the pain could continue for some time.
"Details in the report revealed a broad-based rise in prices, challenging the notion that higher inflation is just a function of transitory factors," said National Australia Bank's Rodrigo Catril.
"On top of the several specials from the second quarter reappearing (cars, holidays, etc) rents are trending higher and history shows that once rents get going the trend doesn't reverse very quickly. Meanwhile, labour costs are also rising."
And Sarah House, at Wells Fargo & Co, added: "We're going to see the inflation picture get worse before it gets better."
All three main indexes, which started the week posting fresh records, sank into the red for a second successive day.
However, in Asia, the mood was a little lighter after Bloomberg News reported that China Evergrande had stumped up the cash for the interest on bonds due by the end of Wednesday.
The payment means it averted a default again, having met two previous deadlines, and slightly eased concerns about its imminent collapse. However, the payments were only made after a 30-day grace period that kicked in when it failed to meet its initial deadlines.
And analysts said the outlook for the firm, which is drowning in more than $300 billion of debt, remained uncertain and fears lingered about a spillover into the Chinese or even global economy.
Hong Kong edged up, with Evergrande surging more than eight percent, while Shanghai, Tokyo, Wellington and Jakarta were also in positive territory.
Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei and Manila all fell. Despite ongoing concerns about the outlook, market analyst Louis Navellier remained upbeat.
"Bottom line is that the massive liquidity that has been injected into the capital markets by central banks continues to lift all boats, and stocks continue to possess the best fundamental story with solid earnings, a vibrant IPO market and even many solid dividend plays.
"If inflation is not going to worry investors, what will?" The dollar held its gains from Wednesday on expectations for higher US interest rates next year, while bitcoin was hovering just below $64,500, having clocked up another record high of $68,991 as investors increasingly eye the cryptocurrency as a hedge against inflation.
In Hong Kong, Alibaba fell nearly two percent as it held a much more subdued "Single's Day" online sales event, with hardly any of the razzmatazz that has marked previous years, with China's ecommerce giants chastened by a government crackdown on platforms.
Chinese consumers' demand for smartphone-enabled bargain-hunting has seen the day dwarf the pre-Christmas "Black Friday" promotion in the United States, with Alibaba and rival JD.com reporting combined sales of more than $100 billion in 2020.
But there were no rolling tallies or triumphant comments by executives from major platforms as of Thursday morning, and state media have described a quieter event this year in the wake of Beijing's campaign to rein in Big Tech.
Key figures around 0300 GMT
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.8 percent at 29,325.75 (break)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.1 percent at 25,010.92
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.6 percent at 3513.06
Dollar/yen: UP at 114.08 yen from 113.87 yen at 2100 GMT
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3402 from $1.3405
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1471 from $1.1479
Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.57 pence from 85.60 pence
West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.2 percent at $81.46 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.2 percent at $82.77 per barrel
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.7 percent at 36,079.94 (close)
London - FTSE 100: UP 0.9 percent at 7,340.15 (close)