Investors are keeping a close eye on the release of US consumer inflation data, which could have a bearing on when the Federal Reserve starts to tighten monetary policy

Hong Kong (AFP) - Investors trod cautiously in early Asian trade Tuesday as they awaited US inflation data that could play a key role in determining when the Federal Reserve will start winding down its market-supporting monetary policy.

The first gain for Wall Street’s S&P 500 and Dow after a five-day losing streak was not enough to spur a broad advance in Asia, though Tokyo clocked up its highest finish in 31 years on hopes for fresh stimulus.

Experts are also keeping an eye on China after authorities tightened their grip on the tech sector as part of a wide-ranging regulatory crackdown against private enterprises.

But the main event this week is the release later Tuesday of US consumer price data, which comes days after figures showed the cost firms pay at the factory gate had risen last month at a record pace owing to a jump in demand as well as supply and labour shortages.

That report put pressure on the Fed to begin tapering its ultra-loose monetary policy as soon as November.

Expectations are for the consumer price reading to come in above five percent, with analysts warning that a reading well above that could force the central bank’s hand in order to prevent inflation from spiralling out of control.

OANDA’s Edward Moya said uncertainty over the reading would keep traders on the sidelines for now.

“Investors don’t want to have massive positions before the inflation data as the risks are to the upside as Covid inflation continues to hamper supply chains,” he wrote in a commentary.

“If inflation comes in hotter-than-expected, taper expectations could shift from December to November.”

Hong Kong and Shanghai led losses on concerns about troubled property titan Evergrande, which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy owing hundreds of billions of dollars.

The firm on Tuesday warned it was under “tremendous pressure” as it deals with the cash crunch that many fear could send it under and have a severe impact on the Chinese economy.

Evergrande’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell nearly 12 percent, and have lost around 80 percent since the start of the year.

Wellington, Taipei, Manila and Bangkok also fell.

However, Tokyo finished at its highest level since 1990 on hopes that a new prime minister will introduce more stimulus for the stuttering Japanese economy.

Sydney, Singapore, Seoul, Mumbai and Jakarta also rose. London, Frankfurt and Paris all fell in morning trade.

Confidence has also been knocked by fears about another coronavirus flare-up in China, with dozens of positive cases in Fujian province forcing authorities to carry out mass testing and shut down public transport in one county.

The news has led to talk that leaders could reimpose tough lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the disease, a move that dealt a blow to China’s economy when another outbreak occurred earlier this year.

“Another round of lockdown restrictions due to China’s elimination strategy threatens to further weaken momentum after surprising softness” in recent services and manufacturing data, said National Australia Bank’s Tapas Strickland.

In Washington, House Democrats unveiled plans for sweeping tax reform Monday, including reversing Trump-era cuts and raising rates on the wealthy and corporations as they look to raise nearly $3 trillion to help subsidise President Joe Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar expansion of the social safety net and other public investments.

- Key figures around 0810 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 30,670.10 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.2 percent at 25,502.23 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.4 percent at 3,662.60 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,036.37

Dollar/yen: UP at 110.06 yen from 110.01 yen at 2040 GMT

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1823 from $1.1815

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3874 from $1.3839

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.21 pence from 85.34 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.9 percent at $71.05 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.9 percent at $74.16 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.8 percent to 34,869.63 (close)