By Marketwatch and Associated Press
Asian markets were mostly down in early trading Thursday as investors reined in earlier optimism of a pending trade deal between the U.S. and China.
Reuters reported Wednesday that the “phase one” deal, which was hoped to be signed in mid-November, might be delayed until December, and that European locations, including London, were being considered for a meeting site for Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.
“The delay, though, may be hiding deeper issues with the trade talks,” Jeffrey Halley, senior Asia Pacific market analyst for Oanda, wrote in a note. “Namely, the scale of tariff rollbacks and other conditions that China now feel they can demand from the U.S. Believing the U.S. president is weakened, and thus more amenable to concessions is a dangerous game,” he said. “Push too hard, and we could very quickly be back to square one.”
Japan’s Nikkei /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.39% dipped 0.1% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.09% fell 0.4%. The Shangahi Composite /zigman2/quotes/210598127/delayed CN:SHCOMP +0.31% slipped 0.3% while the smaller-cap Shenzhen Composite /zigman2/quotes/210598015/delayed CN:399106 +1.12% rose 0.2%. South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -1.49% was about flat, while benchmark indexes in Taiwan /zigman2/quotes/210597977/delayed TW:Y9999 -0.33% , Singapore /zigman2/quotes/210597985/delayed SG:STI -0.55% , Malaysia /zigman2/quotes/210598052/delayed MY:FBMKLCI -0.25% and Indonesia /zigman2/quotes/210597981/delayed ID:JAKIDX -1.01% retreated. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.33% gained 0.8%.
Among individual stocks, Mitsubishi Motors /zigman2/quotes/202404490/delayed JP:7211 -0.25% and Kobe Steel /zigman2/quotes/207391157/delayed JP:5406 -1.54% sank in Tokyo trading. SoftBank /zigman2/quotes/207303954/delayed JP:9984 +2.40% slipped after the company’s CFO said the investment strategy for its Vision Fund will not change, despite mistakes made with WeWork. Toyota shares /zigman2/quotes/203803129/delayed JP:7203 +1.10% inched down ahead of quarterly earnings later in the day. In Hong Kong, AAC /zigman2/quotes/201441510/delayed HK:2018 -1.22% and Tencent /zigman2/quotes/204605823/delayed HK:700 -2.20% fell, while Samsung /zigman2/quotes/209800866/delayed KR:005930 -1.33% declined in South Korea. Foxconn /zigman2/quotes/207385621/delayed TW:2330 -0.15% dropped in Taiwan, while National Australia Bank /zigman2/quotes/210431826/delayed AU:NAB +0.04% and Commonwealth Bank /zigman2/quotes/200638713/delayed AU:CBA +1.08% gained in Australia.
After sinking 0.3% initially Wednesday, the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.05% erased its loss within about two hours. The index closed 2.16 points, or 0.1% higher, at 3,076.78. It’s within two points of its record. The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.78% less than 0.1% to 27,492.56, and the Nasdaq composite /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP -1.79% fell 0.3% to 8,410.63.
The U.S.-China trade war has been a top concern for investors since early 2018, and momentum has recently been tilting toward at least a partial agreement. That, combined with encouraging reports on the economy and corporate profits, have recently propelled U.S. indexes past their prior peaks from July to all-time highs.
While acknowledging that trade talks could easily falter again, Jeff Mills, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust, said both sides have an incentive to come to a deal. China’s economic growth has slowed under the weight of increased U.S. tariffs. Trump’s chances of re-election, meanwhile, likely hinge in large part on the economy, and a worsening trade war would only sour it.
Mills is optimistic the economy will show more life after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates three times this year, if trade tensions continue to ratchet lower. It would be a sharp turnaround from just a few months ago, when worries were spiking that Trump’s trade war and four interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve in 2018 could tip the economy into a recession.
“People know this intellectually but tend not to focus on it: Changes in interest rates impact the economy with a significant lag,” Mills said. “What we’ve been seeing the last year or so is the economy absorbing the rise in interest rates that we experienced in 2018.”
Early next year, the economy should start to get a boost from the Fed’s three rate cuts since the summer, “and I would expect the market to see the recession narrative as overblown,” he said.
Benchmark U.S. crude lost 3 cents to $56.32 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained 12 cents to close at $56.35 per barrel. Brent crude , used to price international oils, fell 2 cents to $56.33.
The dollar /zigman2/quotes/210561789/realtime/sampled USDJPY +0.0206% fell to 108.68 Japanese yen from 108.96 yen.