Stocks Cheered by Chance of Trade Detente, Dollar Downcast

SYDNEY (Reuters) -
A man walks past an electronic board showing Hong Kong share index outside a local bank in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Asian share markets jumped higher on Tuesday as reports of behind-the-scenes talks between the United States and China rekindled hopes that a damaging trade war could be averted, in turn sapping life from the dollar and yen.

Taking a cue from Wall Street, Japan’s Nikkei enjoyed its best day in almost three months, springing 2.3 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose almost 1 percent, while China blue chips added 0.9 percent.

Futures for the FTSE rose 1.2 percent and spreadbetters pointed to steep gains for other European bourses, while E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 firmed 0.3 percent.

The abrupt mood swing came amid reports that Chinese and U.S. officials were busy negotiating to avert an all-out trade war.

White House officials are asking China to cut tariffs on imported cars, allow foreign majority ownership of financial services firms and buy more U.S.-made semiconductors, said a person familiar with the discussions.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday pledged to maintain trade negotiations and ease access to American businesses.

“The recent escalation may have simply been a negotiating tactic that will end in a compromise,” wrote analysts at JPMorgan. “This would be consistent with the pattern around the steel/aluminium tariffs and is the interpretation that many market commentators are favoring.”

Yet they warned it was too early to say for sure, given that President Donald Trump has had deeply held views on fair trade for decades.

Even a whiff of a deal was enough to propel Wall Street to its best day in 2½ years and deliver the Dow its third-biggest point gain ever.

The Dow jumped 2.84 percent, while the S&P 500 climbed 2.72 percent and the Nasdaq 3.26 percent.

The sudden bout of optimism helped offset news that the United States and many of its allies were expelling more than 100 Russian diplomats in retaliation for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain.

The surge in stocks dragged on the Treasury market, which faces a record $294 billion of new supply this week. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes inched up to 2.856 percent, but remained short of last week’s top at 2.90 percent.

In currency markets the reaction was to offload both the yen and the U.S. dollar as appetite for riskier assets revived.

“The yen is being quietly sold as risk hedges are unwound and looks particularly vulnerable on the crosses,” Citi analysts said in a note.

Short-covering against the euro was especially sharp as the common currency jumped 1.4 percent overnight to stand at 131.51 yen.

That allowed the U.S. dollar to bounce to 105.61 yen, having been at its lowest since late 2016 at one point. Yet the U.S. currency ran into selling against almost everything else, with notable breaks by the euro and sterling.

The euro was up at $1.2450, after cracking the March top at $1.2446, and bulls were eyeing the peak for the year so far at $1.2556.

The broad-based softness kept the dollar retrained against a basket of currencies at 89.063, after touching a five-week trough of 88.979.

The improved mood on trade gave a fillip to industrial commodities, with copper and iron ore bouncing, while spot gold inched up to $1,353.61 an ounce.

In oil markets, U.S. crude futures put on 29 cents to $65.84 a barrel, while Brent crude added 18 cents to $70.30 a barrel.