Most Asian markets, yuan boosted by easing China-US tensions

by AFP/ pic by BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG – Asia equities extended a global rally on Tuesday, with the US decision to no longer designate China a currency manipulator a further sign of easing tensions between the economic titans.

The Treasury announcement came days before the two sides are due to sign off on the first part of a wider trade agreement that has helped fan a rally in world markets.

It also led to a sell-off in safe-haven assets with the yen at a seven-month low and gold down almost one percent, while oil was also struggling with the US-Iran flare-up seemingly in the rear window for investors.

Asia was given a firm lead from Wall Street, where all three main indexes ended higher – with the Nasdaq and S&P 500 hitting fresh records – on reports the US was about to remove the manipulator label from China.

Donald Trump accused Beijing in August of weakening its yuan currency “to steal our business and factories”, re-stating a long-standing grievance.

But soon after the end of trade on Monday, the Treasury said in its semi-annual report to Congress that the unit had strengthened and Beijing was no longer keeping it artificially weak.

The yuan jumped more than one percent at one point Tuesday before easing slightly. The currency is up more than four percent from an 11-year low touched in September.

“The yuan is the purest and best barometer to gauge the market’s view on US-China trade tension,” said AxiTrader’s Stephen Innes. “With the yuan strengthening ahead of the ‘phase one’ deal signing, it’s indicating the potential for further improvement in trade relations.”

The US reversal of China’s status as a manipulator “is a most precise and definitive de-escalation of trade tension to date and provides a less congested road as we pivot to phase two of the broader trade agreement”, he added.

Definitive de-escalation

Data on Tuesday showed China’s trade surplus with the US narrowed 8.5 percent in 2019, which will likely play well in the White House, where the huge disparity is a key bone of contention in the White House and a major catalyst of the trade war.

Tokyo was among the biggest gainers, rising 0.7 percent as the dollar advanced against the yen owing to a rush out of safety – giving a boost to Japan’s exporters.

Singapore and Seoul each put on 0.4 percent, Sydney added 0.9 percent, Wellington climbed 0.7 percent and Taipei gained 0.6 percent. Mumbai and Bangkok edged up 0.1 percent, while Jakarta rose 0.2 percent.

However, Hong Kong and Shanghai both slipped 0.3 percent on profit-taking following recent advances, while Manila fell 0.7 percent.

Improving confidence also hit gold, which is a popular go-to asset in times of turmoil. The yellow metal last week broke $1,600 for the first time in seven years on the Iran crisis but the lowering of expectations for a conflict with the US has seen it tumble more than four percent from its recent high.

The improving China-US outlook saw it drop 0.9 percent on Tuesday.

As well as Wednesday’s signing, investors are also looking forward to corporate earnings season, which kicks off in earnest this week with the release of reports from top banks including Citibank, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

“Our expectation is a solid earnings season – nothing extraordinary but nothing really terrible,” Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco told Bloomberg TV.

“The environment is so accommodative that it really is supportive of risk assets, including equities, even if we have a lacklustre earnings season.”

Key figures at 0710 GMT

  • Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 24,025.17 (close)
  • Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.3 percent at 28,867.33
  • Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 3,106.82 (close)
  • Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2973 from $1.2990 at 2140 GMT
  • Euro/pound: UP at 85.85 pence from 85.72 pence
  • Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1140 from $1.1136
  • Dollar/yen: UP at 110.10 yen from 109.92 yen
  • Brent Crude: UP six cents at $64.26 per barrel
  • West Texas Intermediate: UP two cents at $58.10
  • New York – Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 28,907.05 (close)
  • London – FTSE 100: UP 0.4 percent at 7,617.60 (close)