Asian markets fluctuated on Wednesday following a negative lead from Wall Street as investors grow nervous about the chances of success in China-US trade talks ahead of a crunch meeting next week.
The mood remains cautious, with the rally that has characterised the start of the year stuttering owing to a slowing Chinese economy, a softer global outlook and other issues including Brexit and the US government shutdown, which shows no sign of ending soon.
Investors turned sellers
US investors turned sellers on Tuesday after the Financial Times and CNBC said Washington had rejected Beijing’s offer of preparatory discussions ahead of the next round of high-level negotiations.
And while the White House denied the reports, observers said they highlighted the fragility of the talks. They also came a day after Bloomberg News said the two sides were struggling to reach agreement on the crucial matter of intellectual property, a key source of US anger.
Hopes that China and the US were on the right track have helped rally global markets in January, having suffered a torrid 2018.
But data showing China’s economy grew at its weakest pace in three decades added to fears it is heading for a hard landing, while Xi Jinping also showed signs of worrying about the effects of a slowdown in a speech to top provincial leaders this week.
“Investors obviously are still a little bit edgy and therefore we would expect periods of volatility to continue,” said Nationwide Funds Group chief of investment research Mark Hackett.
“As the headlines continue to get more nerve-wracking with regards to a global slowdown and trade wars and government shutdowns, it’s easy to spook investors, but we think those are temporary versus permanent.”
Hong Kong was up 0.1 per cent in the afternoon having swung back and forth through the day, while Shanghai closed 0.1 per cent higher and Tokyo ended slightly down.
Sydney was down 0.3 per cent while Singapore shed 0.5 per cent and Seoul added 0.5 per cent. Wellington, Taipei and Manila were all lower while Mumbai Bangkok and Jakarta inched up.
Oil prices were slightly higher after taking a hit on Tuesday on lingering worries about the effect of a slowdown in the global economy, and particularly China, on demand.
The commodity has jumped around a fifth from lows touched in December – having dived about 40 per cent from early October – but investors continue to fret over the demand outlook as producers keep the taps open.
“The story behind the broad-based selling [in commodities] is an easy one – falling demand,” said Oanda market analyst Edward Moya, pointing to China’s slowing growth, the IMF’s decision to lower its global forecasts and downbeat outlooks from big firms this earnings season.
“US shale production continues to surge and pushing refiners to the highest pace in 15 years. Record stocks of fuel keeps the gasoline glut in focus,” he added.
On currency markets the yen eased against the dollar after the Bank of Japan again revised down its inflation forecasts as it struggles to achieve its long-sought two per cent rate. It said the decision to revise down the forecast was “due primarily to the decline in crude oil prices”.