Asia stocks up slightly, eyes on U.S.-China talks, Fed minutes

February 20, 2019

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks gained a tad on Wednesday after U.S-China trade talks resumed while investors awaited minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve for clues on policymakers’ thinking on interest rates and its balance sheet reduction policy.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2 percent in early trade. Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.4 percent.

In New York, the S&P 500 gained 0.15 percent, helped by upbeat results from Walmart while the Nasdaq rose 0.19 percent, logging its seventh straight session of gains.

U.S. 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 to strike a deal.

“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 also look to the release later on Wednesday of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s January policy-setting meeting, where policymakers took a dovish turn, effectively signaling no further rate hikes.

New York Fed President John Williams endorsed such an outlook, telling Reuters on Tuesday 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.

In the currency market, the euro firmed to $1.1335, bouncing back from Friday’s three-month low of $1.1234, on the back of improving risk appetites.

The dollar stood flat 110.50 yen, off Thursday’s seven-week peak of 111.13.

The British pound soared to $1.3063 on Tuesday, gaining 1.09 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.

The Chinese yuan firmed slightly to 6.7400 per dollar, its highest level in about three weeks.

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.

Oil prices held near three-month highs on tightening supplies though their rally have stalled for now.

U.S. crude futures stood at $56.04 per barrel, down 0.1 percent, in early Asian trade. They hit a three-month high of $56.33 on Tuesday.

Gold traded at $1,228.30 per ounce, after rising to $1,341.9 on Tuesday.

(Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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