Asian markets rise on hopes of deal in China-US trade dispute

Traders will be closely watching Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech at the Baoa Forum to see if he mentions the trade dispute with the United States
AFP Nicolas ASFOURI

Hong Kong (AFP) – Asian markets rose on Monday as fears about a potentially catastrophic China-US trade war were tempered by hopes the two sides will be able to hammer out an agreement.

US markets plunged on Friday after Donald Trump warned of tariffs on an additional $100 billion worth of Chinese imports, to which Beijing responded by saying it would stand firm.

The president’s announcement came weeks after his decision to tax imports of steel and aluminium, followed by planned levies on $50 billion worth of goods from China over what Washington says is theft of intellectual property and technology.

China retaliated by unveiling planned levies on $50 billion worth of major US exports.

Trump’s moves, part of his protectionist “America First” agenda, have rattled world markets, fearing a trade war between the world’s top two economies could reverse the tentative global recovery.

“Much ink has been spilt over trade wars in the last few days, and we now wait to see what the Trump administration does next,” Stephen Innes, head of forex trading for Asia Pacific at OANDA, said in a note.

There are hopes Trump’s headline-grabbing tariffs are part of a plan to take a harsh line as a bargaining tactic towards a deal with China.

And on Sunday Trump tweeted that he saw an end to the dispute, saying: “China will take down its trade barriers because it is the right thing to do.”

However top advisor Larry Kudlow, who has often suggested the tariffs might not go into effect, warned Friday the announcements were not negotiating tactics, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the White House hoped to negotiate but acknowledged a trade war was a possibility.

All three main indexes on Wall Street ended more than two percent down Friday.

But US futures rose Monday and Asian markets, after fluctuating in early trade, pushed higher.

Tokyo ended 0.5 percent higher, Hong Kong climbed more than one percent in the afternoon, Shanghai was 0.2 percent up and Sydney put on 0.4 percent.

Singapore was 0.1 percent higher, Seoul gained 0.6 percent and Wellington added 0.7 percent, while Taipei, Bangkok and Jakarta also rose.

– Xi speech in focus –

“Focus this week will remain the trade issues between the US and China… as some people began to have an optimistic view on the outcome of the issue. It’s getting harder to predict what will come next,” SBI Securities said in a commentary.

Investors will be keeping a close eye on comments Tuesday by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum — dubbed the Asian Davos — to see if he comments on the brewing row.

Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader asked: “Will Xi crank the handle on rhetoric or will he strike a more conciliatory tone?”

A report Friday showed the US created far fewer jobs than expected in March, tempering expectations of sharp interest rate rises by the Federal Reserve.

Markets tanked in February on worries a stronger economy and rising inflation would prompt the central bank to raise rates more than initially thought, bringing an end to years of crisis-era stimulus.

Fed boss Jerome Powell signalled it still plans to press ahead with additional increases this year but did not provide a timeline or idea about the number of increases.

“The Fed seems likely to keep raising interest rates every quarter this year and probably in 2019 as well. If it wants policy to bite and slow down growth then interest rates need to go above neutral — still about one percent higher than current levels — which is probably in (the second half of) 2019,” said Richard Jerram, chief economist at Bank of Singapore.

The dollar held up against its main peers, with yen traders awaiting Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s speech later in the day as he starts his second term.

Oil prices rose on bargain-hunting following last week’s losses, but analysts warned of further volatility caused by the trade dispute uncertainty.

Prices are getting support from the high level of compliance with output cuts by the Saudi-led OPEC cartel and Russia, though rising US production could undermine their efforts.

– Key figures around 0710 GMT – 

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 21,678.26 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.2 percent at 30,194.81

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent to 7,198.22

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2274 from $1.2281 at 2100 GMT on Friday

Dollar/yen: UP at 107.10 yen from 106.92  

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.4100 from $1.4088

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 25 cents at $62.31 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: UP 27 cents at $67.38 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 2.3 percent at 23,932.76 (close)

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