Asian shares slide on trade disappointment, Hong Kong unrest

Reuters TOKYO | Updated on November 13, 2019

Commodities highlight concern about global demand

Asian stocks and Wall Street futures fell on Wednesday, as growing worries that US-China trade talks are stalling and concern about intensifying unrest in Hong Kong hurt demand for risky assets.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.01 per cent to the lowest in more than a week. Hong Kong shares slumped 1.8 per cent to a two-week low, battered by fears that anti-government protests appear to be spiralling out of control.

The dollar drifted in Asia after US President Donald Trump said a trade deal was “close” but gave no new details on when or where an agreement would be signed, disappointing investors in what was billed as a major speech on his administration's economic policies. Trump also rattled some investors by threatening China with even more tariffs if they do not sign a deal.

Oil prices fell as diminishing prospects for an immediate resolution to a 16-month long trade war between the world's two-largest economies suggested less demand for energy in the future. Expectations for a “phase one” trade deal some time this month have been a key factor supporting stocks and riskier assets recently. However, the lack of material progress on an agreement has only increased doubts about whether a trade deal will take place at all.

“I'm absolutely concerned. The clock is ticking,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. “Markets are now expecting substantial progress in the next week or so, and if not, then confidence could crumble. There are diverging interpretations of Trump's comments. I tend to go with commodities like oil and copper because they are plugged in to global demand, so their fall is significant.”

US-China trade war

US stock futures fell 0.27 per cent in Asia after the S&P 500 eked out a 0.16 per cent gain on Tuesday. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq hit all-time peaks during trading on Tuesday but stocks ended off session highs after Trump's speech.

Washington and Beijing have imposed tariffs on each other's goods in a bitter dispute over Chinese trade practices that the Trump administration says are unfair. The standoff has roiled global financial markets and raised the risk of recession for some economies as global trade slows.

In recent weeks, both sides have indicated they were making progress toward an agreement that would potentially scale back some tariffs, but a lack of additional information is starting to unsettle some investors in equities and other riskier assets.

In a reminder of the potential for further friction, Trump said on Tuesday he would raise tariffs on Chinese goods “very substantially” if China does not agree a deal. “And that's going to be true for other countries that mistreat us too,” he added.

Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong stocks slumped as protesters planned to paralyse parts of the Asian financial hub for a third day, with transport, schools and many businesses closing after violence escalated across the city.

Protesters and police battled through the night at university campuses and other locations only hours after police Senior Superintendent Kwong Wing-cheung said the Chinese-ruled city had been pushed to the “brink of a total breakdown”.

The former British colony has been rocked by nearly five months of protest against Chinese rule, and there is growing concern that the chances of a crackdown by Beijing are rising.

Chinese shares fell 0.4 per cent, while Japanese shares skidded 1.02 per cent.

In currencies, the dollar was just a shade lower at 108.99 yen, pulling away slightly from a five-month high reached no Nov. 7.

The New Zealand dollar surged by more than 1 per cent to $0.6410 after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand unexpectedly left interest rates on hold at 1 per cent. The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes rose slightly to 1.9225 per cent but is likely to move in a narrow range before data due later Wednesday that is forecast to show US consumer prices accelerated slightly in October.

US crude dipped 0.25 per cent to $56.66 a barrel on worries about weakening demand for oil.

Published on November 13, 2019

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