Investors are awaiting the Federal Reserve's policy decision, which is due on Wednesday

Hong Kong (AFP) - Stock markets started the week limply Monday following a sell-off on Wall Street, with focus turning to the US Federal Reserve’s keenly awaited key policy decision.

Traders were a little more cautious after the healthy close to last week that was fuelled by another batch of positive Chinese data suggesting the world’s number two economy is stabilising.

But US interest rates once again take centre stage this week, with investors expecting officials to stand pat while hoping for some guidance on the Fed’s plans in the coming months.

A recent run of indicators suggests the economy and labour market remain resilient even after more than a year of interest rate hikes, meaning the central bank will have to keep open the option of another hike.

There is plenty of debate over what the Fed will do, with decision-makers appearing to differ.

Some have said they are happy with rates where they are and others have warned not doing enough could mean inflation will remain stuck well above the official two percent target.

SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes said the Fed had to tread a fine line and Wednesday’s decision was a key focal point owing to “its potential implications for the broader economy and financial markets”.

“Any dovish deviation could encourage the markets to sell the dollar and hammer Treasury yields lower. Such a move would undermine the Fed’s efforts and credibility to combat inflation,” Innes said.

“Conversely, implementing a 25 basis point rate hike could be perceived as inconsistent with the Fed’s objective of engineering a soft landing and may adversely affect risk appetite.”

And Brown Brothers Harriman & Co’s Win Thin said: “The Fed will be sufficiently hawkish so that markets don’t think it is done hiking.”

With economic data still showing strength, “simply put, current conditions warrant further tightening, period”, he said.

Hong Kong, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Mumbai, Bangkok, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta were in the red. Shanghai and Wellington edged up.

London was flat in the morning, while Paris and Frankfurt fell.

- Oil extends gains -

The tepid performance came after a tough day on Wall Street, where the Nasdaq and S&P 500 tanked more than one percent owing to a retreat in tech giants including Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook parent Meta.

Traders were also spooked by a strike at the factories of car titans Ford, General Motors and Stellantis involving about 12,700 workers, with union leaders warning action could spread if pay demands are not met.

Oil prices extended gains on demand expectations as China’s economy shows some signs of revival and the United States remains healthy, compounding an output cut by Russia and Saudi Arabia to the end of the year.

Comments by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman will be closely watched when he addresses a conference on crude policy later Monday.

Observers say that, with output unlikely to pick up any time soon, prices could break back above $100 soon.

The yen edged up slightly against the dollar but remains under pressure, though investors will be keeping a close watch on the Bank of Japan’s own policy decision this week.

The BoJ has refused to shift away from its long-running, ultra-loose monetary policy – putting pressure on the yen as the Fed hikes – but rising inflation has led officials to begin talking up the chances of a shift soon.

In Hong Kong, troubled developer China Evergrande tanked more than 25 percent at one point after news of the arrest of an unknown number of staff in China. It bounced back through the day to end only slightly lower.

Officers in the southern city of Shenzhen said on Saturday several employees at financial subsidiary Evergrande Wealth Management had been held but did not explain why.

- Key figures around 0810 GMT -

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.4 percent at 17,930.55 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,125.93 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for a holiday

London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,713.72

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 147.71 yen from 147.84 yen on Friday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0663 from $1.0664

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2377 from $1.2385

Euro/pound: UP at 86.16 pence from 86.08 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.0 percent at $91.63 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.8 percent at $94.66 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.8 percent at 34,618.24 points (close)