Asian markets struggle for traction, dealers await trade details

by AFP/ pic by TMR FILE

HONG KONG – Asian investors gave a cool welcome Monday to the much-hyped China-US trade agreement, with observers saying they were still waiting for details, while the pound built on gains after last week’s general election win for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The world’s two economic superpowers on Friday said they had finally reached a partial deal that will cool down their long-running tariffs row, cancelling the imposition of fresh measures and winding back some others.

Anticipation that a pact was near helped fire global markets towards the end of last week, but selling began soon after the announcement was made with Wall Street finishing flat.

Under the agreement Donald Trump agreed to cancel tariffs due on Sunday and lower levies already in place, while China committed to purchases of US manufactured merchandise, energy goods and farm exports, with the text due to be signed early next month.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer hailed Trump’s “remarkable” achievement but Asian markets, which enjoyed huge gains Friday, struggled to gain traction at the start of the week as investors await specifics on the pact.

“There is a lot to be seen in the weeks and months ahead whether we are going to be able to actually deliver on the phase one deal that we just went through,” Ephie Coumanakos, Concord Financial Group managing partner, told Bloomberg TV. “We don’t know all of the specifics.”

Tokyo ended 0.3 percent lower, Hong Kong dropped 0.3 percent in the afternoon, Seoul and Wellington each shed 0.1 percent and Manila dropped more than one percent. Bangkok and Mumbai also retreated.

End of the beginning

But Shanghai rose 0.6 percent following forecast-beating data out of China on the key retail and industrial sectors. Sydney climbed 1.6 percent, while Taipei and Jakarta rose.

“Yes, we have a deal, but trade negotiations will continue,” said Stephen Innes at AxiTrader. “For now, escalation seems to be off the table. However, the path to the comprehensive agreement is still miles away.

“Ultimately, the phase one deal fell short of market expectations and is probably not enough to fully restore business confidence or generate a meaningful recovery in exports or investment.”

Sterling held up but was down slightly from Friday’s 18-month highs against the dollar and more than three-year peak on the euro after Johnson’s crushing election win on Thursday that will allow him to push through his Brexit agreement.

The removal of uncertainty surrounding Brexit allowed markets to breathe a huge sigh of relief, though analysts said the saga still has some way to run.

Quentin Fitzsimmons, at T. Rowe Price, said: “This is just the end of the beginning. The real work of negotiating the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU lies ahead and that has the potential to become very complicated.”

Key figures around 0720 GMT

  • Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3 percent at 23,952.35 (close)
  • Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 27,589.53
  • Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.6 percent at 2,984.39 (close)
  • Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3414 from $1.3336 at 2130 GMT on Friday
  • Euro/pound: DOWN at 83.07 pence from 83.37 pence
  • Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1142 from $1.1117
  • Dollar/yen: UP at 109.37 yen from 109.35 yen
  • West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 15 cents at $59.92 per barrel
  • Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 13 cents at $65.09 per barrel
  • New York – Dow: FLAT at 28,135.38 (close)
  • London – FTSE 100: UP 1.1 percent at 7,353.44 (close)