Asian stocks inch up on trade outlook but markets remain wary

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© Reuters. Employees of the Tokyo Stock Exchange work at the bourse in Tokyo© Reuters. Employees of the Tokyo Stock Exchange work at the bourse in Tokyo

By Stanley White

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks edged up on Thursday on signs the United States and China were on track for a preliminary trade deal, though optimism was tempered by the almost daily shifts in prospects for defusing the damaging tariff war now in its second year.

The fluid situation around Sino-U.S. trade negotiations has cast a pall on financial markets heading into Christmas, with major economies grappling under the weight of weak exports, investments and corporate profits.

Investors were quick to latch on to a Bloomberg report on Wednesday that Washington and Beijing are closer to agreeing how many tariffs would be rolled back in a “phase one” trade deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump later said that negotiations with China are going “very well,” providing a boost to riskier assets and denting safe havens like the Japanese yen.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan () rose 0.3%. Australian shares () were up 0.9%, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index () rose 0.81%.

Trump’s comments marked a reversal from Tuesday when he roiled global markets by saying a trade deal may not come until after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Analysts warn that more market turbulence is possible given Sino-U.S. negotiations are very fluid.

“We could be in for a bit of a rally in risk assets and risk-on trades,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney.

“My base case scenario is the two sides reach some deal. The pressure for a deal is immense simply because of the economic slowdown in both countries. However, we see increased volatility because policy uncertainty has become a constant.”

U.S. stock futures () fell 0.03% on Thursday in Asia after the S&P 500 () gained 0.63% on Wednesday.

The United States has imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in a 17-month long dispute over trade practices that the U.S. government says are unfair. China has responded in kind with its own tariffs on U.S. goods.

If both sides cannot reach an agreement soon, the next important date to watch is Dec. 15, when Washington is scheduled to impose even more tariffs on Chinese goods.

Traders are also bracing for the closely-watched U.S. non-farm payrolls report due Friday to determine how well the U.S. economy is holding up amid a global slowdown.

Some investors are betting that Trump will delay the additional duties as long as he gets close enough to a compromise because the tariff hike would hurt U.S. consumers during the crucial year-end shopping season.

However, Trump has repeatedly sent mixed messages about the status of negotiations, sparking fits of optimism and despair in financial markets.

The yen traded at 108.81 per dollar, ceding some of the previous day’s gains as positive signs about the trade dispute hurt demand for safe-haven currencies.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes () fell slightly to 1.7723% in Asia, retracing some of the gains it made in the previous session.

U.S. crude () edged 0.03% lower to $58.41 a barrel on Thursday as a 3% rally overnight showed signs of fading.

However, prices could be supported if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and allies including Russia, approve deeper crude output cuts when they meet in Vienna on Thursday and Friday.

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