Asian markets were mixed Monday after global finance ministers dropped a pledge to oppose trade protectionism according to a weekend statement in the face of resistance from the Trump administration.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 0.5 percent to 24,429.89 points and the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.2 percent to 3,242.97. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday. Seoul’s Kospi shed 0.5 percent to 2,153.21 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 retreated 0.4 percent to 5,776.60. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Jakarta advanced while New Zealand and Singapore declined.
Finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of 20 major economies meeting in Germany issued a statement Saturday that said countries “are working to strengthen the contribution of trade” to their economies. Under pressure from the Trump administration, which wants trade to more clearly benefit American companies and workers, they dropped language from last year’s statement that called on them to resist “all forms” of protectionism. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to downplay the wording issue. Mnuchin said language from past statements was “not really relevant” and said Washington still supports free trade.
“Multilateralism is out,” said Tim Condon of ING in a report. He said that it likely rules out an agreement similar to the Plaza Accord of the 1980s to respond to U.S. trade deficits by weakening the dollar. “The U.S. administration will pursue its America First agenda through bilateral negotiations with countries running large trade surpluses with the U.S.,” said Condon. “Germany is one and in his meeting with German Chancellor Merkel President Trump complained that the U.S. had been treated ‘very, very unfairly’ by its trading partners.”
U.S. stocks limped to the finish line in another winning week after the Federal Reserve gave a more measured forecast than expected for interest rate increases. Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped Friday but ended the week up 0.2 percent at 2,378.25. That put the index within 1 percent of its record high. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.1 percent to 20,914.62. Three stocks rose for every two that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. central bank said that it still plans a total of three increases this year. That came as a surprise for some investors, who thought four hikes was possible given the pickup in the economy and inflation.
The dollar weakened to 112.53 yen from Friday’s 112.59 yen. The euro strengthened to $1.0760 from $1.0747.
Benchmark U.S. crude declined 35 cents to $48.43 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 3 cents on Friday to close at $48.78. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 24 cents to $51.52 in London. It added 2 cents the previous session to $51.76.