US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell maintained a balance in testimony to Congress overnight. While lauding a solid “baseline” US economic scenario, Powell noted risks to the outlook and telegraphed the Fed remains ready to respond. US shares finished modestly higher, defying a sell down in Europe.

US inflation data was slightly more robust than forecast, but support for defensive assets suggests reports of a sticking point in China / US trade discussions dominated overall trading. An alleged disagreement over the setting of a numerical target for Chinese purchases of US agricultural goods rattled investor sentiment. Bonds and gold rallied for the second session in a row, and the Japanese yen and US dollar made further gains.

Asia Pacific futures markets indicate a mildly positive start to stock trading ahead of important data releases today. Forecasts of Japanese Q3 GDP data point to a slowing of annual expansion to 0.9% from 1.3% previously. Unemployment in Australia in October is estimated at 5.2%, in line with September. Both readings have potential to drive market action if expectations are not met.

Outlook statements at AGMs are in focus. Nearmap, Medibank Private, Ramsay Health, Wesfarmers and gold miner Northern Star all face shareholders today. BHP’s opening will be watched closely after the world’s largest listed mining company named Mike Henry as the successor to CEO Andrew Mackenzie.

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