Asian Shares Edge Up, But Political, Economic Woes Hurt Sentiment

SHANGHAI (Reuters) —
An investor yawns in front of an electronic board showing stock information, after the new circuit breaker mechanism suspended today’s stocks trading, in Shanghai, China. (Reuters/China Daily)

Asian stocks inched higher on Wednesday, with sentiment boosted by Wall Street’s rise and a record intraday high for the S&P 500 index, but political headlines in the U.S. and Australia and a retreat in Chinese markets darkened the mood.

Investors in the region took some comfort from hopes that the trade talks between the U.S. and China expected this week will ease trade tensions.

But Chinese investors sold shares across the board, sending the Shanghai Composite index 0.7 percent lower and the blue-chip CSI300 index down 0.6 percent, as economic concerns returned after the central bank said on Tuesday it would not resort to strong stimulus to support growth.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters on Monday that he does not expect much progress from the trade talks with China.

European shares look set to take their lead from China, with financial spreadbetters expecting London’s FTSE to open 16 points lower, Frankfurt’s DAX to fall 20 points, and Paris’s CAC to lose 9 points.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index advanced 0.6 percent.

Seoul’s Kospi rose 0.3 percent, buoyed by tech firms as data showed robust chip exports, and Taiwan shares were 0.1 percent higher.

But S&P futures fell Wednesday as markets assessed the possible impact of a guilty plea from Trump’s former personal lawyer, and the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

“Next to these headlines, trade news fell completely under the radar,” Citi analysts said, noting “concern that something could come out linked to Trump or other of his associates” and that Cohen’s guilty plea sparked a late-session bid in U.S. treasuries.

S&P E-mini futures were 0.2 percent lower at 2855.5. The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes fell to 2.8279 percent compared with its U.S. close of 2.844 percent on Tuesday.

Investors are also looking to Wednesday’s release of minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s August meeting, and a speech by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Friday for clues on future rate hikes.

Trump on Monday told Reuters he was “not thrilled” with the Fed under his appointee Powell for raising rates, and said the U.S. central bank should do more to boost the economy.

The two-year yield, which rises with traders’ expectations of higher Fed fund rates, was at 2.5995 percent Wednesday compared with a U.S. close of 2.608 percent.

Australian shares fell 0.4 percent the day after a leadership challenge to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and as a second challenge to his leadership loomed.

“There’s a bit of a risk premium now being built into Australia,” said Hugh Dive, chief investment officer at Atlas Funds Management in Sydney. “If you’re a foreign investor, suddenly Australia’s looking a lot less attractive.”

In New York on Tuesday, the S&P 500 rose as high as 2,873.23, topping the previous record of 2,872.87 set on Jan. 26. The index is poised to record its longest-running bull market in history on Wednesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 0.25 percent to 25,821.95, the S&P 500 rose 0.21 percent to 2,862.91, and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.49 percent to 7,859.17.

On Wednesday, the dollar edged higher against the yen , gaining 0.12 percent to 110.42.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was 0.05 percent lower at 95.213.

The currency has lagged following Trump’s comments on Monday, in which he also accused China and Europe of manipulating their currencies.

The euro was up 0.08 percent on the day at $1.1578, while China’s yuan strengthened to 6.8425 per dollar at 0543 GMT, 88 pips stronger than its previous onshore close.

In commodity markets, U.S. crude rose 0.5 percent to $66.15 a barrel. Brent crude was 0.4 percent higher at $72.89 per barrel.

Spot gold was down less than 0.1 percent at 1,195.29, after earlier rising 0.2 percent to $1,197.76, its highest level since Aug. 14.

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