Asia markets struggle for traction as investors await trade details

Australian shares jumped, adding 1.23 per cent. But South Korea's Kospi index slipped 0.01 per cent.
Australian shares jumped, adding 1.23 per cent. But South Korea's Kospi index slipped 0.01 per cent.PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian investors gave a cool welcome on Monday (Dec 16) to the much-hyped China-US trade agreement, with observers saying they were still waiting for details, while the pound held gains after last week’s general election win for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The world’s two economic superpowers on Friday said they had finally reached a partial deal that will cool down their long-running tariffs row, cancelling the imposition of fresh measures and winding back some others.

Anticipation that a pact was near helped fire global markets towards the end of last week, but selling began soon after the announcement was made with Wall Street finishing flat.

Under the agreement Donald Trump agreed to cancel tariffs due on Sunday and lower levies already in place, while China committed to purchases of US manufactured merchandise, energy goods and farm exports, with the text due to be signed early next month.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Sunday said the trade deal was “totally done”, notwithstanding some needed revisions, and would nearly double US exports to China over the next two years. But Asian markets, which enjoyed huge gains on Friday, struggled to gain traction at the start of the week as investors await specifics on the pact.

“There is a lot to be seen in the weeks and months ahead whether we are going to be able to actually deliver on the phase one deal that we just went through,” Ephie Coumanakos, Concord Financial Group managing partner, told Bloomberg TV. “We don’t know all of the specifics.”

Tokyo ended the morning barely moved, while Shanghai and Hong Kong each dipped 0.1 per cent with dealers unmoved by forecast-beating economic data out of China.

 
 
 

‘END OF THE BEGINNING’ 

Seoul was flat, Singapore edged 0.1 per cent higher and Taipei put on 0.2 per cent but Manila was slightly lower, though Sydney rose more than one per cent.

“Yes, we have a deal, but trade negotiations will continue,” said Stephen Innes at AxiTrader. “For now, escalation seems to be off the table. However, the path to the comprehensive agreement is still miles away.

“Ultimately, the phase one deal fell short of market expectations and is probably not enough to fully restore business confidence or generate a meaningful recovery in exports or investment.”

The pound held up but was down slightly from Friday’s 18-month highs against the US dollar and more than three-year peak on the euro after Mr Johnson’s crushing election win on Thursday that will allow him to push through his Brexit agreement.

The removal of uncertainty surrounding Brexit allowed markets to breathe a huge sigh of relief, though analysts said the saga still has some way to run.

Quentin Fitzsimmons, at T. Rowe Price, said: “This is just the end of the beginning. The real work of negotiating the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU lies ahead and that has the potential to become very complicated.”