Asian markets mostly rose Monday but investors were keeping a close eye on the China-US trade row after Donald Trump’s optimistic comments on a possible deal were offset by a war of words between his vice president and Xi Jinping. The mood across the region was a little calmer at the start of the week, providing some much-needed support after the volatility of seven days ago, with oil stabilising and the Federal Reserve tempering fears about its plans for interest rate hikes. US markets provided a positive lead after Trump said Friday that Beijing had made overtures toward resolving their trade war, meaning he might hold off imposing another round of tariffs.
The president’s comments followed an indication from one of his top economics advisers that talks were under way ahead of a planned meeting at the G20 in Argentina at the end of this month. However, hopes for an early agreement were jolted by a spat at the weekend APEC meeting between Mike Pence and Xi over China’s economic and regional ambitions, with the US vice president mocking Beijing’s “constricting belt” and a “one-way road” initiative. Xi defended his scheme and hit out at Trump’s “America First” protectionist agenda, saying it was a “short-sighted approach” that was “doomed to failure”.
The stark differences between the two sides meant the APEC gathering ended without a final communique for the first time in its history. Still, investors in Asia were in a buying mood Monday as they picked up bargains. In early trade Hong Kong was up 0.5 per cent and Shanghai added 0.4 per cent while Tokyo ended the morning 0.4 per cent higher. Seoul gained 0.3 per cent and Taipei added 0.1 per cent with Manila jumping more than one per cent. However, Sydney dropped 0.6 per cent, Singapore was off 0.4 per cent and Wellington eased 0.2 per cent. There was also some support from comments by top Fed officials last week hinting at concerns about the global economic outlook, indicating they see signs of slowing that could affect their plans for raising borrowing costs.
Expectations the US central bank would press ahead with a series of hikes well into next year, making debts more expensive for investors, have helped send global markets down this year. But while the prospect of slower rate hikes would be cause for celebration, Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA, sounded a note of caution. “A Fed pause during a hiking cycle is a very strong ‘canary in a coal mine’ type of signal and could eventually lead a more profound correction lower in US equity markets if the US economy does sputter,” he said. Oil prices rose more than one per cent, extending gains from the end of last week after major producer Saudi Arabia said it plans to cut output and called on other producers to follow suit.
“Hope is building on OPEC Plus (countries) to curb output as oil prices have entered into a bear market, falling over 20 per cent from the peak in early October when Brent was at USD 86 per barrel,” Margaret Yang Yan, market analyst at CMC Markets Singapore. However, the commodity remains under pressure from concerns about global demand and rising output as well as the China-US trade war. On currency markets the pound managed to hold off falling further as attention turns to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to win over enough members of her party to push through her Brexit deal.