Asian investors tread uneasily as trade hopes dim

by AFP/ pic by BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG – Asian markets swung Wednesday, gripped by uncertainty over the China-US trade talks, with warnings that Donald Trump’s unpredictability could be harming the chances of an eventual agreement.

Trading has been volatile this week after the US president’s weekend outburst against Beijing and announcement of more tariffs on $550 billion of goods were followed Monday by him saying the two sides had spoken by phone, and negotiations would resume soon.

China, however, has not confirmed any calls took place, while media in the country have played down the chances of more talks or the leadership’s need for a deal.

The developments are the latest in a series of moves by the White House that have seen it slam China before holding out an olive branch.

Analysts say traders are growing uneasy with the strategy.

Stephen Innes at Valour Markets said: “There remains a high degree of scepticism regarding the sincerity of Trump’s comments or even if the Chinese are willing to recommence negotiations.”

He pointed out that an inflammatory tweet on Friday in which Trump labelled Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell and China’s Xi Jinping enemies of the US had resonated among traders.

“Risk-off remains in vogue as trade disputes continue to flare, suggesting any risk assets recovery will remain extremely fragile.”

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, added: “Quite simply last Friday’s events appear to have done significant damage to investor appetite towards risk, and as such the bar to a turnaround is likely to be on the high side.

“It’s not difficult to understand investor reticence in this regard, with the frequent twitter interventions by President Trump going a long way to undermine confidence in the reliability of the US position on trade, with Friday’s events likely to have been a tipping point for some.”

The editor of the state-run Global Times said in a tweet that Beijing was “not putting so much emphasis on trade talks”, instead focusing on boosting the economy, and it was becoming tougher for the US to apply pressure.

‘Large grain of salt’

“A four-word disclaimer, ‘large grain of salt’, on any presidential pronouncements would probably do wonders for reducing the whipsaw volatility of the last week,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

Worries about the outlook continue to dim, with the yield on two-year Treasury notes rising above those for 10-year notes, which is a widely accepted sign a recession is likely.

Tokyo ended 0.1 percent higher, Seoul was 0.9 percent up and Sydney rose 0.5 percent, with gains also in Taipei, Wellington, Manila and Jakarta.

But Shanghai ended down  0.3 percent, Hong Kong and Singapore each shed 0.1 percent in the afternoon and Mumbai dropped 0.4 percent.

China’s yuan edged up slightly after its latest sharp sell-off, but remains lodged around 11-year lows.

In early European trade London dipped 0.3 percent, Frankfurt fell 0.4 percent and Paris was off 0.5 percent.

Oil prices climbed more than one percent to build on Tuesday’s surge that came in response to figures showing US stockpiles dived more than 11 million barrels last week, lifting hopes for demand and offsetting worries about the impact of the trade war.

Also providing support was Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s call for the United States to lift all sanctions against before he would meet Trump, after the US leader had said he would be open to talks.

The Islamic republic’s foreign minister said the chances of a face-to-face were “unimaginable”, meaning there was little chance of a thawing of tensions that would see the return of Iranian oil onto markets.

Key figures around 0720 GMT

  • Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 20,479.42 (close)
  • Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 25,646.14
  • Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 2,893.76 (close)
  • London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 7,070.26
  • Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1089 from $1.1083 at 2100 GMT
  • Dollar/yen: UP at 105.81 yen from 105.77 yen
  • Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2268 from $1.2288
  • Euro/pound: UP at 90.37 pence from 90.25 pence
  • West Texas Intermediate: UP 75 cents at $55.68 per barrel
  • Brent North Sea crude: UP 61 cents at $59.12 per barrel
  • New York – Dow: DOWN 0.5 percent at 25,777.90 (close)