Asian stock markets hold breath for China data, Brexit news

Wayne Cole, Reuters

Posted at Jan 21 2019 10:01 AM

A TV screen is seen next to the German share prize index DAX board the day after the Brexit deal vote of the British parliament during trading in Frankfurt, Germany, Jan. 16, 2019. Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters

SYDNEY -- Asian markets were in limbo early on Monday ahead of data likely to show the Chinese economy slowed at the end of last year, underlining the urgent need for more stimulus as Beijing wrestles with the United States over trade.

Investors are also waiting to hear British Prime Minister Theresa May's 'Plan B' for Brexit which is due to be presented to parliament later on Monday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed in early trade, after rising 1.6 percent last week.

E-Mini future for the S&P 500 were 0.1 percent lower, though trade was light with the US on holiday. Japan's Nikkei added 0.7 percent, helped by a recent pullback in the yen.

China is expected to report that economic growth cooled to its slowest in 28 years in 2018 in the face of weakening domestic demand and bruising US tariffs.

Analysts polled by Reuters expect the world's second-largest economy to have grown 6.4 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, matching levels last seen in early 2009 during the global financial crisis.

That could pull 2018 gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 6.6 percent, the lowest since 1990 and down from a revised 6.8 percent in 2017.

Chinese stocks had rallied on Friday on reports US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed lifting some or all tariffs imposed on Chinese imports, a story later denied.

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday there has been progress toward a trade deal with China, but denied that he was considering lifting tariffs.

"Things are going very well with China and with trade," he told reporters at the White House. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit the United States on Jan. 30 and 31 for the next round of talks with Washington.

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Over in Britain, May will return to parliament on Monday to set out how she plans to try to break the Brexit deadlock after her deal was rejected by lawmakers last week.

May told ministers on Sunday she was looking for ways to make the so-called Northern Irish backstop more acceptable to her Conservative Party and Northern Irish allies.

"We expect only incremental changes from "Plan A" given cross-party talks have fallen flat," analysts at TD Securities wrote in a note.

"Amendments are likely to be introduced all week, with MPs pushing to cancel 'No-Deal', introduce a second referendum, and perhaps push for a permanent customs union," they added. "May will likely travel to Brussels to seek concessions from the EU."

The uncertainty kept sterling sidelined at $1.2860, having briefly been as high as $1.3000 last week.

The dollar held firm on the yen at 109.63, while the euro was near the floor of its recent trading range at $1.1365 . Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was a shade firmer at 96.362.

In commodity markets, spot gold was steady at $1,282.80 per ounce.

Oil prices eased Monday after jumping about 3 percent on Friday as OPEC detailed specifics on its production-cut activity to ease global oversupply.

Brent crude dipped 35 cents to $62.35 a barrel. US crude futures fell 31 cents to $53.49 a barrel.