Asian markets mixed, pound stuck around 20-month low

The China-US trade row, signs of softness in both countries' economies, the Huawei arrest, Brexit, demonstrations in France and tanking oil prices are among the problems facing investors, and analysts warned of more volatility to come.
The China-US trade row, signs of softness in both countries' economies, the Huawei arrest, Brexit, demonstrations in France and tanking oil prices are among the problems facing investors, and analysts warned of more volatility to come.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) Asian equities were mixed on Tuesday (Dec 11) as investor attempts to track gains in New York are weighed by a perfect storm of issues that have hammered global markets, while the pound remained stuck around 20-month lows on Brexit uncertainty.

Bargain buyers tried to step in after the latest sell-off but were unable to gain traction, with fears about the outlook for the global economy keeping sentiment beaten down.

The China-US trade row, signs of softness in both countries' economies, the Huawei arrest, Brexit, demonstrations in France and tanking oil prices are among the problems facing investors, and analysts warned of more volatility to come.

Adding to those problems is upheaval in India - another crucial economy - where the head of the central Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has resigned following a row with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration over alleged government interference.

Monday's development sent the rupee, which was already Asia's worst-performing currency, tumbling more than 1 per cent on Tuesday, with speculation the RBI had intervened to pare the losses. The Mumbai stock market initially fell a similar amount before bouncing back.

Global risk sentiment "is facing a towering wall of worry as virtually every major economy in the world is slowing, suggesting the synchronised global slowdown is accelerating at a much faster pace than thought," said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA.

In Asian trade, Hong Kong rose 0.2 per cent and Shanghai gained 0.4 per cent but Tokyo shed 0.3 per cent.

 
 

Singapore slipped 0.3 per cent, Seoul was marginally lower and Sydney rose 0.4 per cent. Bangkok and Jakarta slipped, while Wellington, Manila and Taipei were up.

On currency markets, the pound was stuck around levels last seen in April 2017, having dived 1.6 per cent on Monday in reaction to Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to delay Tuesday's parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal.

Mrs May recognised the agreement would be voted down and promised to get clarity from Brussels on the key issue of Northern Ireland, but the decision ramped up uncertainty and fuelled fresh questions about her political future.

Adding to the problems, the British PM did not provide a timetable for a new vote.

"The market is concerned that the postponement uses up valuable time before the 29th March exit date, and the risk of a no-deal scenario is growing," said National Australia Bank economist David de Garis.

On an upbeat note, Beijing's economics point man, Vice-Premier Liu He, spoke with US officials to flesh out a timetable for talks to resolve their trade row, following this month's Group of 20 truce hammered out between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.

"It's a positive signal that work is in progress," said Michelle Lam, a greater China economist at Societe Generale.

However, there are low expectations the two sides can reach a full-blown agreement that will end their trade war, with the waters muddied by the arrest in Canada of a top executive at Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer and daughter of the firm's founder, faces US fraud charges related to allegedly breaking Iran sanctions but has asked for bail.

The arrest has angered China and led to concerns it could derail the trade talks.

Both main oil contracts inched higher but were well short of making up for the three percent losses suffered Monday on concerns an output cut agreed by Opec at the weekend might not be enough to lift prices and offset a supply glut.

Key figures around 0710 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3 per cent at 21,148.02 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 per cent at 25,800.63

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.4 per cent at 2,594.09 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.2574 from US$1.2562 at 2200 GMT

Euro/dollar: UP at US$1.1372 from US$1.1354

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.11 yen from 113.35 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate UP 14 cents at $51.14 per barrel

Oil - Brent Crude: UP 11 US cents at US$60.08 per barrel

New York - Dow Jones: UP 0.1 per cent at 24,423.26 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.8 per cent at 6,721.54 (close)