ASX drops, Wall Street's tech stocks caught in renewed sell-off – ABC News

ASX drops, Wall Street's tech stocks caught in renewed sell-off
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Australian shares have fallen sharply ahead of US earnings season, as Wall Street's technology stocks were sold off after a three-day rebound.
The ASX 200 closed 1.1 per cent lower at 7,394 points on Friday — and has dropped 0.8 per cent since the week began.
Most sectors were lower, with Afterpay (-9.2pc), Woolworths (-2.9pc), REA Group (-2.6pc), AMP (-2.6pc), CSL (-2pc) and BlueScope Steel (-2.5pc) suffering heavy losses.
Qantas' share price initially dropped as a surge in COVID-19 infections dampened demand, which led to the airline cutting its third-quarter capacity by about a third. Its shares closed 0.2 per cent higher.
Meanwhile, the financial crime regulator (AUSTRAC) has expanded its money laundering probe beyond Star Sydney. It is now investigating "other entities" in the Star Entertainment Group.
Apart from its Sydney casino, Star also owns casinos in the Gold Coast and Brisbane. Shares in Star fell by 1.9 per cent.
By 4:30pm AEDT, the Australian dollar was steady at 72.8 US cents, near its two-month high.
"We had a pretty nice rebound in the Nasdaq the last few days, so there might just be some lingering nervousness around rates from the Fed [US Federal Reserve] and some profit-taking, especially ahead of earnings," said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute in St Louis.
The prospect of the US central bank hiking interest rates this year is a concern to growth sectors such as technology and consumer discretionary.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite closed 2.5 per cent lower at 14,807 points as investors — nervous about inflation and upcoming US interest rate hikes — took profits.
The S&P 500 dropped 1.4 per cent to 4,659, while the Dow Jones index lost 0.5 per cent to 36,114 on Thursday (local time).
US companies will report their December-quarter results in the coming weeks with banks JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo due to get the ball rolling on Friday (local time), while big technology companies report next week.
Amidst all the confusion, there is one thing becoming clearer by the day. Interest rates, currently at the lowest level in history, have bottomed. The argument about rate rises now merely is a debate about when.
Year-over-year earnings growth from S&P 500 companies were expected to be lower in that quarter (compared with the previous three quarters) but still strong at 22.4 per cent, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
However, warnings from Fed Governor Lael Brainard that "inflation is too high" and that controlling inflation is the "most important task" for the central bank kept investors focused on potential pitfalls ahead.
Yesterday, the US Labor Department published data showing that US consumer prices rose by a whopping 7 per cent in the year to December — the biggest annual increase in almost 40 years.
Dr Brainard said she expected the current wave of high inflation to persist through the next couple of quarters. Her remarks came in response to a senator's question during her confirmation hearing to be the Fed's vice-chair.
She also said that the US central bank would be in a position to start what could be several interest rate hikes this year "as soon as" it completes winding down its bond purchases (Treasury and mortgage-backed), expected to happen in March.
Oil prices ticked lower in commodity markets too, a day after hitting their highest in nearly two months. Brent crude fell 0.9 per cent to $US83.91.
A softer dollar did not bolster bullion prices, which were weighed down by the prospect of rising rates. Spot gold dropped 0.2 per cent to $US1,821.24 an ounce.
ABC/Reuters
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