Asian Shares Scale 4-½-Month Peak on Hopes of U.S.-China Trade Deal

TOKYO (Reuters) -
A man looks at an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Asian stocks advanced to 4-½-month highs on Wednesday as investors bet that Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators would be able to secure a deal to de-escalate their year-long tariff war.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose as much as 1.1 percent to mark its highest levels since Oct. 2. It last traded up 0.9 percent on the day.

Financial spread-betters expected a flat opening in Europe, with London’s FTSE seen 2 points lower at 7,177, Frankfurt’s DAX 1 point lower at 11,308 and Paris’s CAC up 1 point at 5,161.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained as much as 1.3 percent to six-month highs, while Korea’s Kospi and Taiwan’s index recovered to levels last seen in early October. Japan’s Nikkei added 0.6 percent to two-month highs.

China’s blue-chip shares rose 0.3 percent, extending their run of gains to 18 percent from their Jan. 4 trough, thanks to inflows of foreign funds.

The gains in Asia topped those in Tuesday’s Wall Street session, where the S&P 500 tacked on 0.2 percent, helped by upbeat results from Walmart. The Nasdaq also rose 0.2 percent, logging its seventh straight session of gains.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that trade talks with China were going well and suggested he was open to pushing off the deadline to complete negotiations, saying March 1 was not a “magical” date.

U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are currently scheduled to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no trade deal is reached by March 1.

Investors now expect Trump to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping next month, likely after China’s annual congress meeting starting from March 5, to strike a deal or secure a “memorandum of understanding.”

“They will likely agree on China importing a larger amount of natural gas and agricultural products,” said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, chief strategist at Mizuho Securities, adding that China will also “open up a part of its domestic financial services and possibly some manufacturing sectors.”

But he predicted China “will not back down on so-called structural issues. The two countries may perhaps agree to set up a body to continue discussing those issues. Markets are already in the middle of pricing in these things.”

The two countries started a new round of talks to resolve their trade war on Tuesday, and sessions at a higher level are planned later this week, with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He visiting Washington on Thursday and Friday.

Investors are also looking to the release later on Wednesday of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s January policy-setting meeting, where policymakers effectively signaled no further rate hikes and possible tweaks to its balance sheet normalization.

New York Fed President John Williams told Reuters he was comfortable with the level U.S. interest rates are at now and that he sees no need to raise them again unless economic growth or inflation shifts to an unexpectedly higher gear.

But he also suggested the balance sheet roll-off would continue at least into next year at its current pace, dampening speculation that the Fed could end the process this year.

In the currency market, the euro was little changed at $1.1380, but ahead of Friday’s three-month low of $1.1234, on the back of improving risk appetites. The dollar gained 0.2 percent to 110.84 yen, edging near Thursday’s seven-week peak of 111.13 .

The British pound soared to $1.3063 on Tuesday, gaining 1.1 percent, a move some traders attributed to rising hopes Prime Minister Theresa May will make progress in seeking changes to her Brexit deal with the European Union. It last stood at $1.3053.

The Chinese yuan rose as much as 0.6 percent against the dollar, its biggest intra-day gain in more than a month, after Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that the United States was seeking to secure a pledge from China that it will not devalue its yuan currency as part of a trade deal.

The yuan’s strength also sparked bids for Asian currencies, with the Thai baht hitting five-year highs.

Oil prices hovered near 2019 highs, supported by OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, but further gains were capped by soaring U.S. production and expectations of an economic slowdown.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $56.16 per barrel, up 0.1 percent on the day and not far off their 2019 high of $56.33 hit earlier this week.

International Brent crude futures stood at $66.32 per barrel, having hit a three-month high of $66.83 per barrel earlier this week.

Gold rose 0.4 percent to 10-month highs of $1,346.73, extending its rally sparked in part by signs that the world’s central banks are turning dovish.

The yellow metal has also attracted safety bids on worries about Brexit, said Tatsufumi Okoshi, senior commodity economist at Nomura Securities.

Palladium rose as much as 1.4 percent to yet another record high, having risen about 19 percent so far this year, on expectations of increased demand due to stricter emissions standards.