Asian Shares Ease Slightly, Investors Twitchy Before Trump-Xi Meet

SHANGHAI (Reuters) —
People look at an electronic board displaying stock prices at a brokerage house in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Asian shares twitched either side of flat on Friday, reflecting investors’ nervousness ahead of talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping that could determine whether the Sino-U.S. trade war gets any worse.

Victor Huang, head of investment strategy at Guotai Junan International in Hong Kong, said markets would be “much more volatile” next week if the two leaders failed to de-escalate their tariff war in talks due to take place on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in Argentina this weekend.

By afternoon trade, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.2 percent, as an official survey pointed to a slowdown in China’s manufacturing sector. The index was still set for its best month since January as it bounced from a bruising October.

Shares in Europe looked set for a shaky start. Spread-betters CMC Markets expect the FTSE 100 to open 0.04-percent lower at 7,035, but the DAX is seen opening 0.2-percent higher at 11,325 and the CAC 40 up 0.3 percent at 5,020.

In Japan, the Nikkei ended 0.4-percent higher, while Korean shares dropped 0.8 percent after the country’s central bank lifted its policy interest rate in a widely expected decision.

Chinese blue-chips advanced 1 percent despite a survey showing China’s factory growth stalled for the first time in more than two years in November.

The weak manufacturing growth reinforced expectations that Beijing will roll out more economic support measures – a factor that has helped to prop up battered Chinese stocks recently.

U.S. S&P e-mini futures ticked down 0.13 percent, pointing to a weaker Wall Street session on Friday after a mixed overnight performance.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.11 percent, the S&P 500 lost 0.22 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.25 percent on Thursday.

Adding to apprehension ahead of the Trump-Xi meeting , a U.S. official said White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has advocated a tougher trade stance with China, would attend.

The mixed signals from Washington about the prospects for a rapprochement with China on trade kept investors on the sidelines.

“Rather than jump at headlines, the market has taken a laid-back approach and prices are treading water until we see the outcome,” analysts at National Australia Bank said in a morning note.

Australian shares underperformed regional peers, falling 1.6 percent as beverage maker Coca-Cola Amatil , dropped 14.5 percent on a weak outlook for 2019.

“They billed it as another transformational year, which fund managers think means profit growth is not going to be that good,” said William O’Loughlin, investment analyst at Rivkin Securities in Sydney.

Global investors also remain hesitant to shift positions significantly as they seek clarity on U.S. Federal Reserve policy direction.

Minutes of the latest Fed policy meeting showed that almost all officials agreed another interest rate increase was “likely to be warranted fairly soon,” but opened debate on when to pause further hikes and how to relay those plans to the public.

The minutes follow comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell earlier this week that some took as indicating a dovish shift.

The yield on two-year U.S. Treasury notes, seen as sensitive to expectations of higher Fed fund rates, was at 2.8048 percent on Friday, down from a U.S. close of 2.813 percent.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes yielded 3.0242 percent, compared with a U.S. close of 3.035 percent on Thursday.

The dollar lost 0.07 percent against the yen to 113.39 , while the euro weakened to $1.1388. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of major rivals, was barely lower at 96.766.

In commodities markets, crude prices gave up some gains after earlier rising on news that Russia is increasingly convinced it needs to reduce oil output along with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). OPEC and its allies are meeting in Vienna on Dec. 6-7.

U.S. crude was down 0.14 percent at $51.38 a barrel and Brent crude was flat at $59.51 per barrel.

Spot gold rose 0.03 percent to $1,223.95 per ounce.

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