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Markets tumble in Asia

Markets in Asia tumble over negative concerns

Asian markets sank Monday as investors juggle a number of negative issues that have fuelled worries about the global outlook.

Equity markets, which have been buffeted by the trade row this year — and were hammered by the arrest last week — were down on Monday, tracking heavy losses in New York.

Shanghai fell 0.7 percent, Hong Kong shed 1.7 percent and Tokyo lost 2.3 percent by the break. Sydney shed two percent, Singapore gave up 1.3 percent and Seoul gave up 1.1 percent. There were also losses for Manila, Taipei and Wellington.

Adding to investor unease was Chinese data showing growth in exports and imports both slowed in November while factory inflation slowed — indicating demand remains weak. Also, the trade surplus with the US — a key point of irritation for Trump — ballooned to a record last month despite the imposition of tariffs.

The China-US trade row, the Huawei crisis, signs of weakness in the Chinese and US economies, and Brexit are among the key matters depressing equities, though there was some upbeat news in OPEC’s decision to slash crude production.

On Sunday, China summoned the US ambassador to protest at the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada last week over allegations of fraud linked to the breaking of Iran sanctions.

An angry China has demanded Washington drop its extradition request, as investors fret that the arrest could throw a spanner in the works of a fragile trade war truce between Beijing and Washington.

“Huawei… will likely remain in the headlines for some time as China continues to pressure both Canada and US to withdraw charges,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA.

“It’s more than apparent that US-China tensions are well beyond trade. And when combined with the fact ‘tariffs-limbo’ is likely to extend well into 2019, uncertainty is expected to remain high, and could still explode into a full-blown trade war.”

Still, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he did not expect the arrest to disrupt the talks.

Lighthizer, the man leading trade negotiations with China, also said he did not expect to see an extension past the March 1 deadline for a deal between the world’s top two economies.

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed this month to a 90-day ceasefire in the multi-billion-dollar tariffs row that will allow officials to find a resolution. A threatened hike in levies on Chinese imports will be imposed if there is no agreement reached.

“Although the resumption of trade negotiations between China and the US may reduce the risk of further escalation of trade friction, China’s domestic and external demand are under downward pressure,” said China International Capital Corporation economist Liu Liu.

“Uncertainty about US-China relations couple with concerns about the health of the US economy is hurting risk assets across the board,” said Innes. “Indeed, market sentiment remains fragile, and the US November employment report didn’t precisely provide a rosy outlook for the health of the US economy.”

Oil prices were boosted after OPEC and other key producers including Russia agreed at the weekend to cut output by 1.2 million barrels a day.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the agreement “should help the market reach a balance” after prices plunged by about a third from their four-year highs seen at the start of October

The news lifted energy firms, with PetroChina jumping one percent in Hong Kong and Inpex 0.8 percent higher in Tokyo.

Attention is now on Tuesday’s key vote in Westminster, where Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to win over MPs to back her Brexit agreement. There is talk that if she fails, her government will be toppled and the country could see another general election, fuelling further uncertainty.

The pound is stuck around 17-month lows against the dollar and could suffer further losses if May loses the vote.

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