Asia stocks fall to 14-month lows as trade concerns simmer

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks slipped to 14-month lows on Wednesday with investor confidence chilled by the latest round of verbal threats in an intensifying U.S.-China trade conflict.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks in front of a screen showing today’s movements of Nikkei share average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Spreadbetters expected European stocks to open flat to higher in light of Wall Street gains, with Britain’s FTSE .FTSE starting little changed, Germany’s DAX .GDAXI gaining 0.15 percent and France’s CAC .FCHI adding 0.25 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS lost 0.3 percent, plumbing its lowest levels since July 2017.

MSCI Asia-Pacific index:

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng .HSI fell 0.4 percent and the Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC dropped 0.3 percent.

Tokyo’s Nikkei .N225 declined 0.4 percent and Australian stocks gave up 0.1 percent, while South Korea’s KOSPI .KS11 shed 0.3 percent.

The mood was dimmed by the verbal sparring between Washington and Beijing as the months-long escalation in trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies took its toll on riskier assets.

China told the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Tuesday it wanted to impose $7 billion a year in sanctions on the United States in retaliation for Washington’s non-compliance with a ruling in a dispute over U.S. dumping duties.

Separately, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday that the United States was taking a tough stance with China.

Asian equities and the broader emerging markets have faced persistent selling pressure over recent months in the wake of the trade tensions and concerns about the crises in Turkey and Argentina. MSCI’s index of emerging market shares .MSCIEF has fallen to its lowest level since May 2017.

Still, other markets have shown resilience. Wall Street gained on Tuesday as Apple led a jump in technology shares and a gain of more than 2 percent in oil prices drove up energy stocks. [.N]

“In thinking of the prospects of the trade war, it is important to distinguish the journey from the destination. The journey will remain very noisy and unsettling. But I suspect the destination will be less so,” Mohamed A. El-Erian, Chief Economic Advisor at Allianz SE, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum on Wednesday.

El-Erian expects the United States to eventually secure trade concessions. He sees a 60 percent probability of “slightly fairer but and still free trade,” a 25 percent possibility of a global trade war and 15 percent likelihood of a “Reagan Moment” that significantly improves the landscape for international trade.”

In currencies, the dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was 0.1 percent lower at 95.174 .DXY, handing back the previous day’s modest gains.

The greenback, which had gained earlier on safe-haven demand, eased after Canada signaled it was ready to make a concession to the United States to resolve their talks over reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The euro dipped 0.15 percent to $1.1587 EUR=.

The Australian dollar AUD=D4 was down 0.25 percent at $0.7102 after hitting $0.7085 on Tuesday, its lowest since February 2016, on concerns that any damage to the Chinese economy from a trade war could hurt Australia’s exporters.

The pound eased 0.2 percent to $1.3007 GBP=D4, pulling back from a one-month peak of $1.3087 scaled on Monday as hopes over a Brexit trade deal with the European Union subsided.

The trade woes pulled China’s yuan down for the fourth day in onshore trade, with the currency brushing a 2-1/2-week low of 6.88 per dollar CNY=CFXS.

MSCI’s emerging markets currency index .MIEM00000CUS retreated to its lowest since May 2017 on Tuesday, although some observers expect the downturn in these currencies to eventually slow.

“While the markets are yet to give a positive assessment of Argentina’s fiscal and monetary policy efforts, the country is headed in the right direction. And Turkey has hinted toward hiking interest rates,” said Soichiro Monji, senior economist at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo.

“These are positive developments for the Argentine peso and the Turkish lira, which have led the recent decline in emerging market currencies.”

While still shaky, both the peso ARS= and the lira TRYTOM=D4 have pulled back from record lows plumbed over the past month.

Crude oil stretched its gains from the previous day, when the market rallied as U.S. sanctions squeezed Iranian crude exports and after U.S. crude oil production in 2019 was forecast to rise more slowly than previously expected.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 were 0.35 percent higher at $79.33 per barrel after surging more than 2 percent on Tuesday. U.S. crude added 0.9 percent to $69.87 per barrel CLc1.

Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Additional reporting by Divya Chowdhury in Mumbai; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Eric Meijer

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