Asia markets mostly up but gains limited with next bout of US-China trade talks awaited

Earlier data showing China's manufacturing sector surprisingly returned to growth for the first time in four months in March in a sign government stimulus steps were starting to be felt.
Earlier data showing China's manufacturing sector surprisingly returned to growth for the first time in four months in March in a sign government stimulus steps were starting to be felt.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets mostly rose on Tuesday (April 2) but gains were tempered by profit-taking after a recent rally, though investors remain optimistic over China-US trade talks and the prospect of no hike in borrowing costs.

A forecast-beating factory report out of Beijing - which spurred buying across the region on Monday - was followed by a similarly positive US reading, tempering worries about the outlook for the world's biggest and most crucial economies.

Traders are now awaiting the start of the next round of top-level trade talks in Washington, with China and the US noting progress in a meeting last week in Beijing.

A series of olive branch measures from the Chinese side has lifted hopes the two will eventually reach a deal to end their tariffs row, which dragged on equities at the end of 2018.

This week also sees the release of US March jobs data, which are closely watched for an idea about the state of the economy, with the Federal Reserve also using the figures to map its path for monetary policy.

The Fed's recent dovish lean has helped propel a rally across share markets this year, with other central banks also looking to ease up on their tightening moves.

"Having the central banks take a step back, with the Fed saying that they're going to pause and that they're going to be patient at least toward the end of this year, I think that gives the market a little bit of time" to wait for economic data to turn around, said Victoria Fernandez, chief market strategist at Crossmark Global Investments in Houston.

"Is this a bottom, is this a trend that we're starting to see - an upward trend? If so that's gonna be positive for all of the markets," she added.

However, Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, told Bloomberg TV that a lot of the upbeat news "is baked in (to prices) and we are really running on fumes beyond this".

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While stocks were predominantly in the green the early advances had fizzled by the afternoon.

Hong Kong edged up 0.1 per cent in late trade while Tokyo finished marginally lower.

Shanghai closed up 0.2 per cent after fluctuating through the day, Sydney ended 0.4 per cent higher and Singapore rose 0.6 per cent.

Seoul climbed 0.4 per cent and Wellington jumped more than one per cent, while Taipei, Manila, Mumbai, Jakarta and Bangkok were also well up.

The confident air helped oil prices to extend Monday's gains of more than two per cent, with support also coming from news that OPEC had lowered output while major producer Venezuela's political and economy crisis deepens.

Forex investors continue to be occupied by the ongoing Brexit drama, with MPs on Monday once again rejecting a series of alternative options to Prime Minister Theresa May's EU divorce deal, which has already been rejected three times.

Brussels has set an April 12 deadline to agree to the divorce deal, settle on an alternative or crash out of the bloc, which most observers warn will be economically calamitous.

May was to call in her cabinet to discuss the next steps but while investors are averse to uncertainty, there is still hope that parliament will avert a no-deal exit.

The pound dipped Tuesday though it has managed to avert a sharp sell-off so far.

"While no-deal risks grow, the base case remains for the UK to get a longer extension from the EU to start over from scratch," said OANDA senior market analyst Edward Moya.

"May will discuss her options tomorrow in a cabinet meeting, but it appears she may try to push through another attempt of getting her deal across the finish line."

Even so, on Tuesday EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned it was becoming "day after day more likely" that Britain will crash out with no agreement in place next week.

In early trade London rose 0.3 per cent, Frankfurt added 0.2 per cent and Paris was 0.1 per cent higher.