HONG KONG-Fresh fears over headwinds facing the global economy saw Asian stocks plunge into the red Friday, in light holiday trading after US markets were closed for Thanksgiving.
Chinese shares led the downward charge as Shanghai slumped by more than two percent, with the tech sector hit hard by a Wall Street Journal report that Washington is urging its allies to avoid using equipment from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
Worsening tensions between the US and China have shattered confidence on global trading floors, and investors were sceptical of new claims from Donald Trump he was hopeful of resolving the bitter trade dispute between the two countries.
“China wants to make a deal. If we can make a deal, we will,” Trump said, ahead of crunch talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G20 in Argentina next week.
Beijing Friday also signalled its willingness to make progress, with vice minister of commerce Wang Shouwen telling a press briefing he hoped the two economic heavyweights could “finally find a solution to solve the problem”.
But the fractious recent APEC summit — which for the first time ever failed to issue a joint statement after US-China trade tensions boiled over — has set an ominous tone for the high-stakes summit in Buenos Aires.
The world’s top two economies have been locked in a trade war since the summer, with the US imposing punitive tariffs on Chinese goods worth $250 billion per year. In retaliation, China imposed tariffs on $110 billion of US goods.
Washington has threatened to toughen measures even further if the issue is not resolved before January.
“Investors are waiting for either a conclusion to the trade war or for Xi to present some meaningful stimulus,” James Soutter, head of global equities at K2 Asset Management in Melbourne, told Bloomberg News.
“Chinese companies are actually more sanguine than investors, and in many cases still seeing growth, although not at the levels of last year.”
– Bearish mood –
Speculation is growing that the People’s Bank of China will again cut the level of cash that banks must hold in reserve, in a fresh bid to lower financing costs and blunt the economic impact of the trade dispute with the US.
“The (Chinese) central bank is worried about external shocks in the wake of the cantankerous APEC summit which highlighted a considerable political divide,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at trading group Oanda.
“But moves are unlikely to be substantial given the local markets are effectively in holiday mode.”
With markets in Japan and India closed for holidays, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul all chalked up losses on Friday, as Asian stocks headed for a third week in the red.
Sydney, which saw gains of 0.4 percent, was a rare bright spot.
With New York markets shut Thursday for Thanksgiving, London, Paris and Frankfurt had all closed down, with the FTSE dragged lower by the strengthening pound.
The UK currency jumped after Britain and the European Union struck a crucial draft deal on post-Brexit ties, ending the European session more than half a percent higher against both the dollar and the euro.
The pound held onto its gains even as huge uncertainty remains over how the Brexit endgame will play out.
But analysts said many forex traders were biding their time.
“Currencies are also likely to stay within current ranges ahead of the Trump-Xi meeting next week, which could provide a deeper move depending on the outcome,” Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at ANZ in Singapore, told Bloomberg News.
The bearish mood was exacerbated by fresh falls in crude prices as traders took fright over risks of oversupply, after US authorities announced stockpiles had climbed for the eighth week in a row.
“The overhang from swelling US inventories which remain freshly minted in trader minds suggests the massive crude glut continues to outweigh OPEC output cut,” Innes said.