Asia markets off to a firmer start as trade concerns simmer

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 edged up by 0.41 percent, with all sectors gaining with the exception of financials and gold producers, which were off 0.09 percent and 0.35 percent, respectively.

The consumer staples subindex popped 2.35 percent as Wesfarmers jumped 4.95 percent following news it would be spinning off its Coles supermarket business.

Trade-related developments were once again in focus, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the Trump administration was looking to impose tariffs on at least $30 billion of imports from China. Reuters on Tuesday said the figure could be around $60 billion.

Some investors are concerned that tariffs could result in retaliatory actions taken by U.S. trading partners, which could in turn lead to a trade war that dents growth.

Despite that, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro on Thursday told CNBC that the U.S. could implement tariffs on imports without causing a trade war.

Apart from trade worries, U.S. stocks were also pressured by news that special counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed President Donald Trump’s businesses. It was unclear what information Mueller requested, but the New York Times reported that the probe could last several more months.

U.S. stock indexes closed mixed in the last session, with the S&P 500 shedding 0.07 percent to close at 2,747.33.

In currencies, the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of rivals, stood at 90.139 at the end of Thursday, above an overnight low of 89.620.

Some analysts attributed the firmer dollar to comments from Larry Kudlow, the incoming top White House economic advisor, on Wednesday. Kudlow had told CNBC he favored a stronger dollar. (Larry Kudlow has been a long-time contributor to CNBC.)

The overnight gains in the currency also came ahead of the Federal Reserve’s meeting next week.

Against the yen, the dollar traded at 106.31 at 7:53 a.m. HK/SIN, after dipping below the 106 handle during Asia Thursday trade.

In corporate news, Samsung’s latest Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphone models will be available in several markets on Friday after their initial launch in February.

Also of note, Alibaba Group, currently listed in New York, is looking to list in China, according to the Wall Street Journal. The e-commerce giant told CNBC it would consider a listing on the mainland if regulation allowed for it.

On the earnings front, several Hong Kong corporates, including CK Hutchison, CK Assets and China State Construction, are due to report results.

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