Asian markets cautious as investors look to crucial Trump-Xi talks at G-20 summit

Asian markets ended mixed on Friday as investors waited for a highly anticipated meeting between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Argentina, which many hope will help ease escalating trade tensions between the two countries.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 88.46 points, or 0.4 percent, to 22,351.06, while the Topix index added 0.48 percent to 1,667.45. South Korea’s Kospi fell 17.24 points, or 0.82 percent, to 2,096.86.

The Bank of Korea raised its policy interest rate on Friday for the first time in a year, but the move was said to be widely expected.

Analysts said that despite a slowdown in overall economic indicators, the central bank raised rates due to “financial imbalance risk.”

“We think today’s hike is similar to its previous hike in Aug ’08, likely finishing the normalization process with more policy space ahead of the next potential downturn,” analysts at Citi Research said in a note. “Potential negative impact from trade tensions and a slowdown in Chinese economy could disrupt Korea’s supply chain linkage with China. Investments will likely contract amid a higher unemployment rate.”

The Korean won traded at 1,121.05 to the dollar, weakening from levels below 1,120.

Shanghai and Hong Kong move higher

Greater China markets ended the day higher: The Shanghai composite gained 20.74 points, or 0.81 percent, to 2,588.18. The Shenzhen composite added 12.31 points, or 0.92 percent, to wind up at 1,337.74.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was up 0.4 percent in late-afternoon trade.

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector stalled for the first time in more than two years in November as new orders shrank. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index, released Friday, fell to 50 for the month, missing market expectations and down from 50.2 in October.

In Australia, the benchmark ASX 200 fell 91.20 points, or 1.58 percent, to 5,667.20, with most sectors declining. The heavily weighted financial subindex was down 1.58 percent as major banking stocks fell while the materials sector dropped 0.69 percent.

The session in Asia followed a lower finish on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones industrial average snapped a three-day winning streak.

Big meeting in Buenos Aires

Trump told reporters Thursday that he was “close” to doing something on trade with China but added he wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it. “Because what we have right now is billions and billions of dollars coming into the United States in the form of tariffs or taxes, so I really don’t know,” he said.

Meanwhile, reports said that White House advisor Peter Navarro would be attending the dinner between Trump and Xi. News of his attendance dampened hopes that a trade deal could be hatched at the meeting given his longstanding hawkish tone on U.S.-China trade.

Elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal reported that officials from both governments said the U.S. and China are exploring a trade pact that would halt further tariffs from Washington in exchange for new talks looking at major changes to Beijing’s economic policies.

Analysts said that a more conciliatory tone between the two leaders could see risk assets respond positively. But some warned that the trade dispute will not go away just because of the meeting.

“Though a comprehensive agreement is still unlikely, agreeing a framework of future talks together with delay in implementation of 25 (percent) tariffs hike on $200 (billion) of Chinese imports are sufficient to constitute a good outcome,” Huani Zhu, an economist at Mizuho Bank, said in a note.

In the currency market, the dollar traded at 96.77 against a basket of its peers Friday afternoon during Asian hours. The dollar index fell from levels above 97.200 following remarks from the Fed Chair earlier this week which some market watchers took to mean the central bank may stop hiking rates sooner than it had previously signaled.

The yen traded at 113.37 to the greenback, while the Australian dollar fetched $0.7318.

Elsewhere, reports said that the Pakistani rupee plunged about 6 percent in what was suspected to be the sixth currency devaluation by the country’s central bank in the past 12 months.

Source: CNBC

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