Asian Stocks Give Up Gains as U.S.-China Optimism Fades

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

Asian stocks pared gains on Thursday and safe-haven assets rose as optimism for a quick resolution to the U.S.-China trade war faded.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.1%. Japan’s Nikkei slid 0.12%.

The pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures were down 0.09%, German DAX futures were down 0.02%, while FTSE futures fell 0.03%.

Asian shares got off to a bright start after U.S. President Donald Trump said a deal to end a nearly 15-month trade war with China “could happen sooner” that people think.

However, the positive mood faded and Chinese shares fell 0.35% as Trump’s repeated mixed messages about trade negotiations caused investors to curb their enthusiasm.

Treasury prices and gold rose in a sign that some investors preferred safe assets given lingering risks posed by trade friction and political uncertainty.

“Trump is genuinely interested in reaching a trade agreement with China, but he also trusts his advisers and when they tell him what the Chinese are bringing to the table is insufficient, or has been dramatically altered at the last minute,” Jeff M. Smith, Research Fellow at the South Asia-Heritage Foundation, said in the Global Markets Forum chatroom

“He’s proven more than willing to walk away from a bad deal.”

U.S. stock futures fell 0.18% on Thursday, following a 0.62% increase in the S&P 500 on Wednesday.

The United States and China have been locked in a year-long dispute over Beijing’s trade practices that has slowed global growth and increased the risk of recession for some economies.

Analysts tempered their optimism over a resolution to the trade war because Trump’s public comments often send mixed signals.

Just on Tuesday, Trump sharply criticized China in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, where he said he would not accept a “bad deal.”

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a limited trade deal on Wednesday that cuts tariffs on U.S. farm goods, Japanese machine tools and other products while further staving off the threat of higher U.S. car duties.

Japanese shares initially got a boost from the agreement but turned lower in volatile trade as investors squared positions before shares go ex-dividend from Friday.

Australian shares also fell 0.53% as skepticism about an end to the trade war set in.

Treasury prices rose as investors sought safe-haven assets.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes fell to 1.7025%. The two-year yield fell to 1.6595%.

Spot gold, another safe-haven, rose 0.31% to $1,508.52 per ounce.

Investors are largely shrugging off the Democrats’ decision to begin an impeachment inquiry into Trump. The move came as a summary of a telephone call showed the U.S. president had asked Ukraine’s president to investigate a political rival.

Casting doubt over the likelihood of impeachment is the majority held by Trump’s Republicans in the Senate, which can be used to quash any attempt to remove the president from office.

The New Zealand dollar jumped 0.59% to $0.6305 after the head of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand said unconventional monetary easing is unlikely as central banks ponder how to contain risks posed by trade friction.

U.S. crude fell 0.05% to $56.48 per barrel in another sign of investor concern about the global economy.