Asia stocks extend global retreat as trade and growth worries clobber investors

Japan's Nikkei shed 2 per cent. Data early in the session showed the economy contracted the most in over four years in the third quarter as capital expenditure tumbled.
Japan's Nikkei shed 2 per cent. Data early in the session showed the economy contracted the most in over four years in the third quarter as capital expenditure tumbled.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets sank on Monday (Dec 10) as investors juggle a number of negative issues that have fuelled worries about the global outlook.

The China-US trade row, the Huawei crisis, signs of weakness in the Chinese and US economies, and Brexit are among the key matters depressing equities, though there was some upbeat news in Opec's decision to slash crude production.

On Sunday, China summoned the US ambassador to protest at the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada last week over allegations of fraud linked to the breaking of Iran sanctions.

An angry China has demanded Washington drop its extradition request, as investors fret that the arrest could throw a spanner in the works of a fragile trade war truce between Beijing and Washington.

"Huawei... will likely remain in the headlines for some time as China continues to pressure both Canada and US to withdraw charges," said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA.

"It's more than apparent that US-China tensions are well beyond trade. And when combined with the fact 'tariffs-limbo' is likely to extend well into 2019, uncertainty is expected to remain high, and could still explode into a full-blown trade war."

Still, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he did not expect the arrest to disrupt the talks.

Lighthizer, the man leading trade negotiations with China, also said he did not expect to see an extension past the March 1 deadline for a deal between the world's top two economies.

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed at the G20 this month to a 90-day ceasefire in the multi-billion-dollar tariffs row that will allow officials to find a resolution. A threatened hike in levies on Chinese imports will be imposed if no agreement is reached.

Equity markets, which have been buffeted by the trade row this year - and were hammered by the arrest last week - were down on Monday, tracking heavy losses in New York.

Hong Kong shed 1.4 per cent, while Shanghai fell 0.8 per cent.

Tokyo lost 2.1 per cent, with Japanese car giant Nissan dropping 2.9 per cent after ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn was charged and faced new allegations for alleged financial misconduct.

Sydney shed 2.3 per cent, while Singapore and Seoul each gave up 1.1 per cent. There were also losses for Manila, Taipei and Wellington.

Adding to investor unease was Chinese data showing growth in exports and imports both slowed in November while factory inflation eased - indicating demand remains weak.

Also, the trade surplus with the US - a key point of irritation for Trump - ballooned to a record last month despite the imposition of tariffs.

"Although the resumption of trade negotiations between China and the US may reduce the risk of further escalation of trade friction, China's domestic and external demand are under downward pressure," said China International Capital Corporation economist Liu Liu.

That came after the US on Friday said job creation came in a lot lower than expected, while the International Monetary Fund's top economist warned the world's top economy would see growth slow next year.

"With the US-China G20 trade optimism more than erased going into the new week, just as a fresh wave of growth concerns crashes onshore, there is really little to cheer at present," Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG Asia, told Bloomberg News.

"After the rude awakening following the Huawei arrest, markets look to be pausing to contemplate the situation, evidently choosing to err on the cautious end this morning."

Oil prices were boosted after Opec and other key producers including Russia agreed at the weekend to cut output by 1.2 million barrels a day.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the agreement "should help the market reach a balance" after prices plunged by about a third from their four-year highs seen at the start of October.

The news lifted energy firms, with PetroChina jumping 1.1 per cent in Hong Kong and Inpex one per cent higher in Tokyo.

Attention is now on Tuesday's key vote in Westminster, where Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to win over MPs to back her Brexit agreement. There is talk that if she fails, her government will be toppled and the country could see another general election, fuelling further uncertainty.

The pound is stuck around 17-month lows against the dollar and could suffer further losses if May loses the vote.