World stocks head higher on hopes of thawing trade tensions

Reuters London | Updated on May 14, 2018 Published on May 14, 2018

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, was up 0.1 per cent, holding at its highest level in seven weeks and in positive territory for the year.

Malaysian ringgit hits 4-month low after election shock

Prospects of a thaw in US-China trade tensions supported global stocks on Monday, as US President Donald Trump pledged to help ZTE Corp “get back into business, fast” after a US ban crippled the Chinese technology company, while oil prices retreated from highs.

Trump's comments on Sunday came ahead of a second round of trade talks between US and Chinese officials this week to resolve an escalating trade dispute. China had said last week its stance in the negotiations would not change.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, was up 0.1 per cent, holding at its highest level in seven weeks and in positive territory for the year. European stocks were broadly flat as energy stocks and financials weighed.

“There have been some very serious issues raised in terms of the trade relationship between the U.S. and China, and then they've had this quite sudden about-turn on this particular company, and it simply raises questions as to what the underlying policy is,” Alastair George, chief strategist at Edison Investment Research, said.

“This is perhaps a little reminder which is being relatively well-received by markets over the last 24 hours that (with) the US administration there is a strong degree of unpredictability compared to prior regimes,” Edison's George added.

N. Korea nuclear weapons programme

The United States has said it will lift sanctions on Pyongyang if North Korea agrees to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.

Stocks in Asia were also upbeat. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei also tacked on 0.5 per cent. Chinese shares came off the day's highs but were still higher after Trump's comments on ZTE Corp, , which JPMorgan analysts said was “a significant positive’’.

Shanghai's SSE Composite index rose 0.3 per cent, while the blue-chip rallied 0.9 per cent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index climbed 1.4 per cent.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Malaysian ringgit recovered losses after sliding 1 per cent to a four-month trough against the dollar in the first onshore trade since a shock election upset last week. Malaysian stocks sank as much as 2.7 per cent at one point but were last up 1.5 per cent.

Veteran Mahathir Mohamad came out of political retirement to lead the Opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) to a stunning victory defeating prime minister Najib Razak, a former protege he had accused of corruption.

Some investors were concerned that populist promises such as repealing an unpopular goods and services tax and restoring a petrol subsidy could undermine the country's finances.

But some analysts believe Mahathir's proposals could be positive for the economy.

“The repeal of GST, while only marginally negative for the fiscal deficit, will be a boon for consumers, who have been upset that they bear the burden of poor fiscal management and came out to vote against the establishment,” said Trinh Nguyen, senior economist at Natixis. OIL AND IRAN While tensions in the Korean peninsula have eased, U.S. plans to reintroduce sanctions against Iran have stoked anxiety in the Middle East.

Oil prices at multi-year high

Iran pumps about 4 per cent of the world's oil, and the latest development has sent oil prices near multi-year highs.

Citi analyst Mark Schofield said rising oil prices risk causing 'stagflation', which could create a particularly ”hostile environment” for risk assets.

On Monday, US crude slipped to $70.33 a barrel and Brent was down at $76.70 as a relentless rise in US drilling activity pointed to increased output.

Iran nuclear accord

The United States had threatened on Sunday to impose sanctions on European companies that do business with Iran, as the remaining participants in the Iran nuclear accord stiffened their resolve to keep that agreement operational.

In currencies, the dollar dipped 0.2 per cent to 92.40 against a basket of major currencies and was set for its fourth straight day of losses. Against the Japanese yen, it ticked down to 109.52 per dollar, remaining largely in a holding pattern since late last month.

The euro rose 0.3 per cent to $1.1974 following two consecutive sessions of gains as Italy's anti-establishment parties looked likely to form the next government.

Last week, the Bank of England held rates steady and New Zealand's central bank said the official cash rate will remain at historic lows of 1.75 per cent for “some time.”

That leaves the Fed as the only major central bank in the world committed to rate increases although recent data showing moderate inflation reading has cast doubt over the pace of any hikes. The US 10-year Treasury yield was slightly higher at 2.9805 per cent. Spot gold was up 0.2 per cent at $1,320.01 an ounce, after eking out a small weekly gain last week.

Published on May 14, 2018
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor