White House jitters, Barcelona terror attack weigh on Asian shares

Asian markets were pressured in Friday trade after investors on Wall Street sold off on growing uncertainty over the Trump administration’s ability to follow through on its economic policies.

Risk off trade from the U.S. session followed through into the Asian trading day: Japan’s Nikkei 225 touched its lowest levels in three months, with the strength in the yen also weighing on shares. The benchmark index fell 1.18 percent, or 232.22 points, to end at 19,470.41.

Across the Korean strait, the Kospi declined 0.14 percent, or 3.30 points, to end at 2358.37, off earlier lows.

Meanwhile, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.56 percetn, or 32.107 points, to 5747.10, driven by broad-based losses across most sub-indexes. The heavily-weighted financials sub-index lost 1.09 percent.

Markets in greater China were in similar shape. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index shed 0.91 percent by 3:31 p.m. HK/SIN. On the mainland, the Shanghai Composite bucked the regional trend, finishing 0.81 point above the flatline at 3269.24. But the Shenzhen Composite shed 0.373 percent, or 7.13 points, to end at 1902.25.

Doubts over President Donald Trump’s ability to carry out proposed economic policies grew in the U.S. following rumors that National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn would be the next key member to resign from the administration. The rumor was later refuted by the White House.

The latest political developments took place after Trump on Wednesday disbanded two advisory councils comprising high level business executives. Several members of those councils had resigned over the president’s response to violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Despite the backlash following his earlier comments, Trump on Thursday said in a series of tweets that efforts to remove Confederate monuments in the U.S. were sad for the “history and culture of our great country.”

Indexes on Wall Street closed lower Thursday on those developments, with the Dow Jones industrial average posting its largest one-day fall in three months.

Still, one market watcher noted how periods of dampened investor sentiment haven’t necessarily weighed on markets for very long this year.

“We have certainly also witnessed how fast the cloud clears for the current longest bull market when there are no substantial concerns to economic growth derailment,” said IG market strategist Jingyi Pan in a note.

Markets also kept an eye on news of a terror attack which involved a van driving into crowds near a popular tourist destination in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday. At least 13 were killed in the attack, which also injured more than 100 others.

Police in Spain also said on Friday that they had killed perpetrators of a “possible terrorist attack” in Cambrils, a town south of Barcelona.

Back in Asia, Wynn Macau stock was up 0.47 percent by 3:35 p.m. HK/SIN after earlier falling more than 2 percent. The Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of Wynn resorts reported a profit of HK$1.59 billion ($203.47 million) for the first half of the year, above the HK$1.1 billion recorded for the same period a year earlier.

Other gaming plays traded lower: SJM Holdings shed 0.43 percent and Sands China was off 0.85 percent by 3:35 p.m. HK/SIN.

Deutsche Bank analyst Karen Tang maintained her “buy” call on Wynn Macau stock in an Aug. 18 note, noting that the gaming company has benefited the most from the resurgence in VIP visitors in Macau this year.

Meanwhile, computer manufacturer Lenovo posted a loss of $72 million in the quarter ending on June 30, citing challenging market conditions and supply constraints. Lenovo stock was down 3.81 percent at 3:36 p.m. HK/SIN.

In other corporate news, China Unicom said shares of the company traded in Shanghai and Hong Kong would remain suspended due to a lack of details over a fundraising deal, Reuters reported. The state-owned telecommunications group had earlier announced it was raising around $11.7 billion from investors, including Tencent and Alibaba, as part of mixed ownership reform.

In currencies, the dollar was slightly softer against a basket of currencies after a volatile overnight session, which saw the greenback recover after falling on rumors about resignations from the Trump administration.

The dollar index stood at 93.473 at 3:37 p.m. HK/SIN, but remained below a mid-week high of around 94.145, according to Reuters data.

“The fact that the dollar has struggled to recapture its gains after the news faded highlights the ongoing turmoil for an administration that has been too distracted by external factors to focus on fiscal stimulus,” said BK Asset Management Managing Director of foreign-exchange strategy Kathy Lien in a Friday morning note.

The U.S. currency also lost ground against the yen, with the greenback fetching 108.99 yen at 3:38 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels around 110 seen mid-week.

Meanwhile, the euro edged up after falling overnight on the release of minutes from the European Central Bank, which detailed a potential overshoot in the common currency. The euro was at $1.1749 at 3:39 p.m. HK/SIN, which was below the around $1.1770 the common currency traded at around the beginning of the week.

Oil prices rose slightly after gaining more than 1 percent overnight on a potential decline in oil inventories in the U.S.

Global benchmark Brent crude was up 0.31 percent at $51.19 a barrel at 3:41 p.m. HK/SIN and U.S. crude was up 0.40 percent at $47.28.

In economic news, new home prices in China climbed 0.4 percent in July from a month earlier, according to Reuters. That was below the rise of 0.7 percent seen in June. On a yearly basis, average new home prices rose 9.7 percent from the year-earlier month, Reuters said.

Source: CNBC