Asian markets stumble again as trade fears persist

Hopes that China and the US can resolve their trade row has provided support to markets. (AFP pic)

HONG KONG: The sell-off on Asian markets extended into Wednesday with investors fearing an escalation in the US-China trade row after Beijing said it planned to impose anti-dumping sanctions worth billions on Washington.

The news adds to a sense of pessimism across trading floors in recent weeks as the world’s top two economic powers stand on the cusp of an all-out trade war that observers fear could batter the global economy.

It also comes as dealers struggle to deal with a brewing emerging-market financial crisis and overshadows hopeful noises from Canada that a revised NAFTA deal is “imminently possible”.

However, energy firms were broadly higher as oil prices benefited from a sharp drop in US inventories, looming sanctions on Iran and Hurricane Florence’s imminent impact on the Carolinas.

China said Tuesday it would ask the World Trade Organisation next week for permission to impose more than US$7 billion in sanctions annually on the United States over anti-dumping practices. The WTO will discuss the issue on September 21.

The case dates back to December 2013, when China took issue with the way Washington assesses whether exports have been “dumped” at unfairly low prices onto the US market.

Beijing’s call comes after Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on all goods coming from China, which he says is using unfair trade practices that are harming American jobs. He has also railed against his country’s massive trade deficit with China, which hit a record high last month.

Hong Kong was again among the worst performers, having fallen into a bear market Tuesday – marking a 20% fall from its record high touched in January.

Downside risk

The Hang Seng Index was down 0.4% while Shanghai dropped 0.3% to finish around levels last seen at the very beginning of 2016.

Tokyo ended 0.3% lower and Sydney fell 0.1% while Wellington and Taipei were each 0.3% off.

Manila and Bangkok were also lower while Seoul and Singapore were flat.

“We are concerned that trade tensions are adding to the downside risks to growth,” Sneha Sanghvi, head of Asian financial markets at Westpac, told Bloomberg TV.

“We are seeing heightened volatility and risk aversion in financial markets – that trend is likely to continue for the next few weeks.”

The losses came despite a positive lead from Wall Street, where energy firms were boosted by a more than 2% rally in oil and technology firms were supported by bargain-buying.

Both main crude contracts extended gains Wednesday, providing support to energy firms, with eyes on the US east coast as Florence barrels in.

Japan’s Inpex more than 2% higher and Woodside Petroleum in Sydney 1.6% higher. CNOOC put on more than 1% in Hong Kong.

“There is a strong possibility Hurricane Florence moves to a Category Five storm before it hits land and it is already a major disruptor on the US east coast gasoline market as mass evacuations stretch supplies and Florence’s heavy rains endangers major fuel pipelines,” said Rodrigo Catril, senior foreign-exchange strategist at National Australia Bank.

In early European trade London was flat, while Paris and Frankfurt each rose 0.2%.

Key figures around 0720 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3% at 22,604.61 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4% at 26,325.63

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.3% at 2,656.11 (close)

London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,274.47

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1587 from $1.1600 at 2040 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3001 from $1.3026

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 111.54 yen from 111.57 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 69 cents at US$69.94 per barrel

Oil – Brent Crude: UP 37 cents at US$79.43 per barrel

New York – Dow Jones: UP 0.4% at 25,971.06 (close)