Stocks rebound as report of US-China trade talks improves mood

A pedestrian walks past an electronics stock indicator of Japan's Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on March 23, 2018.
A pedestrian walks past an electronics stock indicator of Japan's Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on March 23, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - US stock futures led global shares higher on Monday (March 26) after reports that the United States and China have quietly started negotiations to improve US access to Chinese markets eased fears of a trade war between the two economic giants.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 leaped more than 1 per cent while Japan's Nikkei erased earlier losses of 1.3 per cent to end 0.7 per cent higher.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.4 per cent, flipping back to positive territory from a 0.5 per cent fall.

European shares ticked up on opening, with Germany's Dax, France's Cac and Britain's FTSE all about 0.3 per cent higher.

The Wall Street Journal reported US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer listed steps that Washington wants China to take in a letter to Liu He, a newly appointed vice-premier who oversees China's economy.

Signs of talk between the two economic giants allayed fear of an escalating trade war, sparked after US President Donald Trump moved to slap tariffs on Chinese goods, on top of import duties on steel and aluminium, prompting a defiant response from Beijing.

The United States also agreed to exempt South Korea from steel tariffs, imposing instead a quota on steel imports as the two countries renegotiate their trade deal.

South Korea's benchmark share index rose 0.8 per cent.

"If we do start to hear more favourable news from the US administration and indeed from the Chinese side over the next few trading sessions, then we may see a sharp reversal of the recent moves in the market," said Nick Twidale, chief operating officer at Rakuten Securities Australia.

Still many investors remained cautious given the high level of uncertainty on where any bilateral negotiations may lead.

"Protectionism remains a source of volatility and downside risk for equities," analysts at JPMorgan said in a note.

"Asia ex-Japan equity outperformance is in part a function of faster growth and capital inflows - both clearly at risk in a trade war."

In the uncertain global economic climate, investors looked to pile into the Japanese yen, traditionally a safe haven asset thanks to the country's massive current account surplus.

Speculators added short dollar bets to their portfolios, taking the net short position to its highest in more than a year, according to calculations by Reuters and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for the week to March 20.

Short yen positions were cut to the smallest since November 2016.

By late Asian trade, the yen had eased slightly from near 16-month highs to 105.08 per US dollar, while the Australian and New Zealand dollars, a liquid proxy for China plays, staged a welcome rebound.

The Aussie was up 0.5 per cent while the kiwi gained 0.8 per cent.

The dollar index tracking the greenback against six other major currencies was near a one-month low at 89.423.

In commodities, international Brent crude futures opened above US$70 per barrel for the first time since January but the gains could not be sustained as the ongoing trade disputes weighed on global markets.

Spot gold was flat at US$1,346.8199 an ounce.