Asian markets down on trade uncertainty, unrest hits Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets turned lower yesterday as another record close on Wall Street was overshadowed by uncertainty on the China-United States (US) trade talks, while Hong Kong was also hit by fresh protests in which at least one person was shot.

Expectations Beijing and Washington will agree a mini-pact have fuelled an equity rally for the past few weeks.

Hopes had been given an added boost last Thursday after China said the two sides had agreed to roll back some tariffs as the negotiations progress.

But the US side sent out some confusing signals after that announcement, before US President Donald Trump denied such an agreement, leaving investors scratching their heads.

Still, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro provided a lift to sentiment, saying Trump could postpone tariffs on Chinese goods scheduled to take effect in December. The S&P 500 and Dow both ended at fresh all-time highs.

An investor monitors stock prices at a brokerage in Beijing. PHOTO: AP

“President Trump’s speech on Tuesday at the New York Economic Club offers the perfect soapbox for (him) to make a big political splash on both the US-China trade talks and section 232 auto investigation against the EU,” said AxiTrader’s Stephen Innes.

“The president has never been known to shy away from the spotlight, so keep eyes trained on this significant event.”

Asian investors were unable to extend the winning streak.

Tokyo ended 0.3 per cent lower and Singapore shed more than one per cent with Seoul, Mumbai, Taipei, Jakarta and Manila also sharply lower. Sydney and Wellington edged up. Shanghai dropped 1.8 per cent, with traders keeping tabs on China’s annual “Singles’ Day” shopping frenzy – the world’s biggest 24-hour shopping event – which acts as a gauge of the country’s consumer spending.

Total gross merchandise volume settled through Alibaba’s payments platform Alipay hit CNY192 billion (USD27.4 billion) in the first 12 hours, the e-commerce titan said.

This put it on course to break last year’s record of USD30.7 billion. The firm said the first USD1 billion was spent in just 68 seconds.

Hong Kong sank 2.6 per cent as the city was gripped by another wave of protests that have jammed up the transport network and led to the closure of several businesses.

At least one person was hurt after a police officer fired shots at demonstrators, as the unrest – which

for five months has battered the city’s image and dragged on the economy – shows no sign of letting up.

Tensions have soared in recent days following the death last Friday of a 22-year-old student who succumbed to injuries sustained from a fall in the vicinity of a police clearance operation a week earlier.

In early trade London and Frankfurt each fell 0.5 per cent, while Paris was off 0.3 per cent.

On currency markets the pound edged up but struggled to recover losses suffered last Friday that came in reaction to news that Moody’s had downgraded the outlook for Britain’s debt, citing mounting policy challenges as the Brexit saga rumbles along.