By Kenan Machado
Stocks in several Asia-Pacific markets closed higher Thursday, coming back from early declines as interest in cheap buying opportunities started to push back concerns over trade protectionism.
Stocks in Japan and Hong Kong initially dropped by more than 1% following falls in major U.S. benchmarks overnight, but as investors perceived overselling they stepped in and pushed the Nikkei and the Hang Seng back into positive territory. Hong Kong’s recovery was helped by southbound flows from mainland China.
The initial pessimism stemmed largely from a third straight fall in major industrial stocks in the U.S. concern over the implications of protectionist trade policies. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that U.S. businesses seeking to avoid tariffs on supplies they import will face high hurdles. A puzzling decline in U.S. retail sales, meanwhile, hit stocks in that sector.
The Nikkei’s /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -2.03% push back into positive territory was helped by the yen’s retreat off session highs. The benchmark ended higher by 0.1%, and the dollar /zigman2/quotes/210561418/realtime/sampled JPYUSD -0.0416% was back above ¥106, from an early low of ¥105.83.
Stocks of large Chinese firms trading in Hong Kong logged gains, with Tencent /zigman2/quotes/204605823/delayed HK:700 -2.17% up 1.1%, bringing this week’s increase to 4.8%. Ping An /zigman2/quotes/202773380/delayed CN:601318 -0.50% , another common bet of mainland investors looking south, rose 3.4%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.76% rose 0.3%.
South Korea’s Kospi index /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -1.52% climbed from the negative to end up 0.3%. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.29% pruned declines, though it still fell 0.2%, a third-straight drop as the benchmark was done in by energy stocks.
Stocks in Shanghai /zigman2/quotes/210598127/delayed CN:SHCOMP -0.0004% were largely flat but a late-afternoon rally left New Zealand stocks /zigman2/quotes/211587880/delayed NZ:NZ50GR -1.13% up 0.4%, not far from Tuesday’s record.
There is still a risk that U.S. President Donald Trump may keep his campaign promise and impose significant tariffs on China, which could hurt the whole of Asia, said Vasu Menon, a senior investment strategist at OCBC Bank.
“Xi Jinping is a strongman and his own actions in purging his rivals and corruption in China shows he will not shy away from taking an aggressive stance if Trump hits China with significant tariffs,” said Menon.
Still, China may act less aggressively if the tariffs are limited to steel and aluminum, which will have a relatively low impact on its economy, said BNP Paribas Investment Partners’ head of Chinese stocks Caroline Yu Maurer. “That is why we haven’t seen much retaliation,” she said.
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