Asian markets mostly down as traders eye tariffs deadline

by AFP/ pic by AFP

HONG KONG – Most Asian markets fell on Tuesday morning with investors keeping a nervous eye on the China-US trade talks with less than a week until Washington is due to impose fresh tariffs on Chinese goods.

The general consensus is that the two superpowers will eventually hammer out a partial pact as part of a wider agreement, which has fuelled a global equity rally for weeks, though comments from both sides – both optimistic and downbeat – are keeping dealers on their toes.

While the week is chock-full of key events including the UK general election and central bank decisions in the US and Europe, observers say the China-US negotiations are the only game in town.

The key concern for now is that with the Dec 15 deadline approaching, Donald Trump still has not scrapped planned levies on $160 billion of Chinese goods, which many fear could derail the long-running talks.

“Given the market has bought into the December tariff delay in a big way, all hell could break loose if the tariffs don’t get postponed,” said Stephen Innes at AxiTrader.

“Indeed, that would be a bitter pill for investors to swallow as the reality.. sets in that they have yet again been taken down the trade talk garden path only to end up at the cliff edge.”

Sterling holds ground

Still, agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue provided some hope to markets when he said he did not think the levies will be imposed, though analysts pointed out that while this is positive, the ultimate decision is in Trump’s hands.

Hong Kong and Singapore each slipped 0.1 percent in the afternoon and Tokyo ended 0.1 percent lower, while Sydney and Taipei both fell 0.3 percent

Manila, Mumbai and Jakarta were also in negative territory but Shanghai gained 0.1 percent, while Seoul and Wellington were each 0.5 percent higher.

There was little early reaction to data showing Chinese consumer inflation picked up in November but not as much as expected, with surging pork prices the key reason owing to African swine fever, which has seen a vast culling of the country’s pig herd. However, the drop in factory prices eased, soothing concerns about future inflation rates.

Sterling remains well supported going into the final straight of the UK national vote, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson tipped to win a clear majority that will help him drive through his Brexit deal.

“As we saw in the last three years, opinion polls don’t always get it right, but the consistent lead by Boris Johnson’s party has encouraged dealers to buy into the pound,” said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK..

However, the PM’s lead has narrowed slightly in recent days, which is keeping traders on guard for a possible hung parliament and more uncertainty.

Key figures around 0720 GMT

  • Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 percent at 23,410.19 (close)
  • Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 26,457.92
  • Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 2,917.32 (close)
  • Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1069 from $1.1065 at 2150 GMT
  • Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3158 from $1.3148
  • Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.12 pence from 84.16 pence
  • Dollar/yen: UP at 108.60 yen from 108.56 yen
  • West Texas Intermediate: DOWN seven cents at $58.95 per barrel
  • Brent North Sea crude: DOWN five cents at $64.20 per barrel
  • New York – Dow: DOWN 0.4 percent at 27,909.60 (close)
  • London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,233.90 (close)

Bloomberg News contributed to this story