Asian stocks climb but dearth of trade details caps gains

Tom Westbrook, Reuters

Posted at Dec 17 2019 08:41 AM

Asian stocks climb but dearth of trade details caps gains 1

SYDNEY -- Asian shares gained on Tuesday, but a lack of detail about the Sino-US trade deal tempered some of the exuberance that sent Wall Street to record highs overnight, while familiar fears of a hard Brexit knocked the pound.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.1 percent. Japan's Nikkei rose half a percent to its highest in more than year. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 eked a tiny extension to Monday's big gains.

Bond markets, currencies and commodities were more circumspect than equities, and movements were slight.

"Everyone expected the US was never going to put the new tariffs on, it was hurting them as much as anyone else," said Mathan Somasundaram, portfolio strategist at stockbroker Blue Ocean Equities in Sydney. "But markets are fairly stretched, we need to have better data to drive growth optimism."

The preliminary deal between Washington and Beijing will double US exports to China, White House adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News overnight. The United States will also reduce some tariffs on Chinese goods under the agreement.

It is not yet signed, and the Chinese side have been more circumspect in their praise, but US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said over the weekend it is "totally done".

The 3 major US stock indices rose modestly, but posted record closing highs. So did the pan-European STOXX 600 index .

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.4 percent, the S&P 500 added 0.7 percent and the Nasdaq almost one percentage point. For the year to date, the Nasdaq has increased its value by a third, while the other indicies are up by more than 20 percent.

In Britain, the FTSE 100 had its biggest daily gain in almost a year. But after the closing bell some familiar fears returned.

ITV reported Prime Minister Boris Johnson would use his huge majority to reinstate a hard deadline for quitting the European Union at the end of next year, again raising the specter of a chaotic "hard" Brexit.

Sterling fell 0.6 percent.


Elsewhere currency markets were more circumspect in the absence of many of the fine details of the trade deal. The US dollar recouped some of Monday's losses, though moves were modest.

"Well, yeah, they've agreed a phase one deal, but what's actually in it?" said Westpac analyst Imre Speizer.

"Equity markets just want to rally, so they'll pick on anything that seems remotely positive, but the other markets are maybe a little more thoughtful about exactly what's going on."

Several Chinese officials told Reuters the wording of the agreement remained a delicate issue and care was needed to ensure expressions used in text did not re-escalate tensions.

Still, trade optimism kept the Chinese yuan on the strong side of 7 per dollar.

The Australian dollar drifted lower ahead of the release of central bank meeting minutes that will provide clues as to the thinking about further monetary easing in 2020.

Brent crude held steady at $65.29 per barrel, after climbing overnight. Spot gold was flat at $1,475.32 per ounce.