Asian shares near 18-month high, bask in trade deal afterglow

Pedestrians walk in front of an electric quotation board displaying the numbers on the Nikkei 225 Index on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, on Dec 13, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Asian markets idled near 18-month highs on Monday (Dec 23) as trading volumes weakened ahead of the Christmas holiday break, with investors taking profit on gains made earlier this month.

In early European trades, the pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures and German DAX futures rose 0.1 per cent each while those for London's FTSE inched up a bit.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 climbed to all-time highs having put on 2.7 per cent for the month.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan hovered near its highest since June 2018, having risen 1.4 per cent last week and more than 5 per cent this month. For the final quarter of the year, it is up nearly 10 per cent so far.

Global stocks were "basking in the afterglow of the United States. China trade deal and continued encouraging signs of stabilisation in the global growth slowdown," said David Bassanese, Sydney-based chief economist at Betashares.

On Friday, the benchmark S&P 500 extended its run of record highs to seven straight sessions, its longest streak in more than two years. All three major US indexes - the S&P 500, Nasdaq and Dow - notched up gains.

"While we're entering 2020 with more hope than last year, as is always the case, there's never any room for complacency," Bassanese added.

Data on Friday showed US growth nudged up in the third quarter, while there were signs the economy maintained its moderate pace of expansion as the year ended. Consumer spending was stronger than previously reported, and there were upgrades to business spending.

US President Donald Trump gave markets more reasons to cheer on Saturday when he said the US and China would "very shortly" sign their so-called Phase One trade pact.

Under the deal, the US would agree to reduce some tariffs in exchange for a big jump in Chinese purchases of American farm products.

Further, China said on Monday it would lower tariffs on products ranging from frozen pork and avocado to some types of semiconductors next year as it looks to boost imports amid a slowing economy and a trade war with the US.

During Asian hours on Monday, Japan's Nikkei trod water after reaching a 14-month top last week. It was ahead by 2.3 per cent for the month so far.

South Korea's market was down 0.1 per cent after adding 5.5 per cent so far in December. Chinese shares eased with the blue-chip CSI300 down 0.5 per cent while Australian shares ended in the red.

The only major data this week is the US personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator for November, due on Friday.

Action was muted in currency markets as well.

The euro held at US$1.1078 after slipping 0.4 per cent last week.

Sterling last fetched US$1.3011, not far from Friday's three-week low of US$1.2976. It slid 2.6 per cent last week for its worst weekly showing since October 2017.

The safe haven Japanese yen was treading water at 109.40.

That left the dollar index barely changed at 97.667 against six major currencies.

In commodities, Brent crude was off 21 cents at US$65.93 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude slipped 24 cents to US$60.2 a barrel.

Spot gold was slightly ahead at US$1,480.62 an ounce.

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