Asian stocks struggle as trade anxiety weighs

August 7, 2018 - 10:43 AM
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An investor looks at a computer screen displaying live market data. (Reuters/File photo)

TOKYO – Asian stocks wobbled on Tuesday as simmering worries over the U.S.-China trade conflict offset positive leads from earnings-led gains on Wall Street.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.05 percent.

The index dipped early and struggled to gain traction amid volatility in Chinese stocks. The Shanghai Composite Index rose over 0.6 percent in early trade following a four-day losing run. It was last up 0.1 percent.

Australian stocks dipped 0.25 percent, South Korea’s KOSPI rose 0.2 percent and Japan’s Nikkei added 0.25 percent.

The three major U.S. stock indexes closed higher on Monday amid a strong U.S. earnings season, with results from Berkshire Hathaway impressing and Facebook lifting the Nasdaq after a report it was planning new services.

“Global markets are (being) buffeted by conflicting currents. The bottom-up view of the world from a corporate perspective is positive, led by U.S. companies,” wrote Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

“However, the increasing potential for trade disputes to slow the global economy is restraining investor enthusiasm.”

The dollar drew support from the persistent international trade tensions. Its index against a basket of six major currencies rose to a near three-week high of 95.515, before pulling back slightly to 95.347.

Some analysts see the trade conflict benefiting the U.S. dollar as the nation’s economy is better placed to handle protectionism than emerging markets, and as tariffs may narrow the U.S. trade deficit.

Weakness in its peers further bolstered the dollar.

The euro fell to a five-week low of $1.1530 overnight, weighed down by worries that Italy could ramp up spending and challenge European Union budget regulations and by a drop in June German industrial orders. The single currency last traded at $1.1559.

The pound was also on the back foot, driven on Monday to $1.2920, its weakest since September 2017, after comments by officials raised fears Britain would crash out of the EU without securing a trade agreement. Sterling stood at $1.2940.

The dollar was steady at 111.34 yen after edging up 0.1 percent overnight.

A big mover was the Turkish lira, which struggled near a record low plumbed on Monday after Washington said it was reviewing Ankara’s duty-free access to the U.S. market as tensions between the two NATO allies ramped up.

The lira has lost 27 percent of its value this year, battered primarily by concerns about President Tayyip Erdogan’s drive for greater control over monetary policy.

“Currently the impact of the lira’s slide is mostly contained within the country. But fears of a default will begin to increase if the currency keeps depreciating, and such a development could affect some European financial institutions,” said Kota Hirayama, senior emerging markets economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

“The Turkish central bank will have to move quickly and raise interest rates to arrest the lira’s fall before it becomes too late.”

In commodities, the previous day’s rise by crude oil flagged as the market braced for the imposition of U.S. sanctions against major crude exporter Iran, set to take effect at 0401 GMT.

Benchmark Brent crude oil futures were down 0.05 percent at $73.71 a barrel. They had gained 0.75 percent on Monday after OPEC sources said Saudi production had unexpectedly fallen in July.

Copper struggled under the combined weight of trade tensions and a firmer dollar. Copper on the London Metal Exchange was down 0.35 percent at $6,111.50 per tonne after retreating more than 1 percent on Monday. -Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro Editing by Joseph Radford & Shri Navaratnam