Most Asia markets rise but trade talks, stimulus cause worry

Business Report

Asian markets mostly rose Monday, with investors keeping a wary eye on China-US trade talks planned for the weekend, which comes after Washington imposed sanctions on several Hong Kong officials, further straining tensions between the superpowers.

Adding to the uncertainty was US lawmakers’ inability to find common ground on a much-needed, new stimulus for the world’s top economy, with executive orders signed by Donald Trump considered sticking plasters for a crippling crisis.

The move came after the White House set the clock ticking on forcing Chinese internet giants TikTok and WeChat to end all operations in the US, as part of diplomatic-commercial offensive analysts fear will likely worsen leading into November’s presidential election.

China slammed the sanctions as “barbarous and rude”.

On Monday, Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, one of the city’s most vocal Beijing critics, was arrested under the security law, deepening a crackdown on democracy supporters.

US regulators also last week recommended overseas firms listed in the US should be subject to US public audit reviews from 2022, which could cause Chinese firms to delist.

The developments have put the spotlight on Saturday’s meeting of trade officials to review their “phase one” trade deal signed in January.

Still, National Australia Bank’s Tapas Strickland said: “The running assumption in markets has been President Trump needed the phase one deal to succeed (as much as China) this side of the November elections to secure the midwest” farming belt.

But he added: “At the same time President Trump is running a hard China line into the elections”.

– Washington stalemate –

And Stephen Innes at AxiCorp warned that with polling figures tumbling and US virus infections surging, he could use the China row to show him as a strong leader.

Hong Kong edged lower, though the rest of Asia was in positive territory with Sydney more than one percent higher and Shanghai up 0.5 percent.

Seoul gained almost one percent, while Taipei put on 0.8 percent.

The stimulus stand-off in Washington continues to disappoint, with Democrats and Republicans still unable to bridge their differences to push a new plan through.

With matters at a standstill, Trump signed measures Saturday giving Americans up to $400 a week extra in their unemployment benefits, while others offer some protection from evictions and relief for student loans. Another ordered a freeze in payroll taxes.

Observers said there was some hope the move would spur politicians to work harder to reach a deal, though others warned it could in fact give them less urgency to work together, with the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion offer more than three times bigger than the Republican proposal.

“Both parties are going to have to tread very carefully but they are going to have to move on and try to come to some kind of agreement,” Kim Forrest, at Bokeh Capital Partners LLC, told Bloomberg TV.

There was some good news for markets Friday, with data showing the US economy created 1.8 million jobs in July, far fewer than in May and June, but more than economists had been expecting, while unemployment dipped to 10.2 percent from 11.1 percent.

– Key figures around 0245 GMT –

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.3 percent at 24453.29

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.5 percent at 3,370.25

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: Closed for a holiday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1798 from $1.1786 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.78 yen from 105.94 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3075 from $1.3057

Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.22 pence from 90.24 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.1 percent at $41.68 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.9 percent at $44.80 a barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 27,433.48 (close)

London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 6,032.18 (close)