Asian markets rally as energy firms track oil surge

Pedestrians walk past an electronics stock indicator at the window of a securities company in Tokyo, on March 9, 2018.
Pedestrians walk past an electronics stock indicator at the window of a securities company in Tokyo, on March 9, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets enjoyed another day of gains on Thursday (April 19) as energy firms tracked a surge in oil prices, while fears over Syria and a possible China-US trade war eased.

Fresh hopes that Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un will hold a historic summit within months also provided some much-needed optimism.

Both main crude futures rallied almost three percent Wednesday on the back of data showing a drop in US stockpiles - indicating improved demand - and expectations that a Russia-Opec output cap deal will be kept in place.

Adding to the gains was talk that OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia wanted to see crude at around $80 a barrel as it prepares for a gigantic listing of part of its state oil company. Tensions in the oil-rich Middle East are also keeping prices elevated.

Brent and WTI, which are now sitting at levels not seen since the end of 2014, edged up further in Asia and analysts say they could continue to rise.

Energy firms across Asia were boosted, with Hong Kong-listed PetroChina up almost five percent and CNOOC three percent higher. Woodside Petroleum added 1.8 percent in Sydney and Inpex put on 0.4 percent in Tokyo.

In broader markets, Tokyo ended the morning 0.6 per cent higher, while Hong Kong and Singapore each gained more than one per cent. Shanghai added 0.8 per cent, Sydney climbed 0.5 per cent and Seoul put on 0.3 per cent.

Taipei, Wellington and Jakarta were also higher.

The positive trading environment is a far cry from the unease felt at the start of the week after US-led strikes on Syrian targets - in response to an alleged chemical attack - sparked worries of a confrontation with Russia, which is an ally of the Damascus regime.

TRADE, SYRIA RISKS EASE

However, reports have suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to ease tensions as he faces fresh sanctions.

China's announcement of a timetable to remove restrictions on foreign ownership in its car market, the world's biggest, also lifted optimism that a simmering trade war with the United States can be avoided.

Tough rules on doing business in the country's auto sector had been a major source of anger for Trump, who has already threatened tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese imports in recent weeks as part of his "America First" protectionist agenda.

However, in its quarterly report on the US economy, the Federal Reserve warned there were concerns about the trade tensions among businesses and farmers, who had seen prices rise already.

The central bank's Beige Book report said the world's top economy continued to see moderate growth and it expected to lift interest rates twice more this year, having already hiked in March.

"The biggest dynamic in the market right now is the growth story," Sandip Bhagat, chief investment officer at Whittier Trust, told Bloomberg TV.

"We're in the midst of a synchronized global recovery in growth and corporate profits are rising," he added. Trade wars, tariffs and inflation worries are just "distractions".

On currency markets, the pound struggled to bounce back against the dollar after diving from post-Brexit vote highs on data showing a surprise drop in British inflation.

And the upbeat sentiment across markets has provided support to the greenback against the safe haven yen.