Asian stocks advance as tariffs take a backseat; China rallies

  • Asian stocks closed higher on Monday, with China markets leading the move higher.
  • China and the U.S. exchanged tariffs on Friday, with markets keeping an eye on potential elevation in trade tensions.
  • The move higher in regional markets came on the back of stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs data.

Asian shares closed higher on Monday, taking cues from Wall Street’s advance following the release of strong employment data for the month of June. Meanwhile, investors continued to keep an eye on trade after the U.S. and China exchanged tariffs last week.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 1.21 percent, or 264.04 points, to close at 22,052.18, buoyed by broad-based gains across sectors, including banking, electric appliances and metal products, with pharmaceuticals leading gains on the index. The broader Topix advanced 1.2 percent.

Elsewhere, the Kospi saw slimmer gains in South Korea, rising by 0.57 percent to end at 2,285.80 as tech stocks climbed while manufacturers declined. Index heavyweight Samsung Electronics rose 1.56 percent on the day and steelmaker Posco dropped 2.4 percent.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 added 0.22 percent to finish at 6,286 amid gains in banks and resources plays. Mining major BHP was up 2.14 percent, with banks also ending the session higher.

Greater China markets rallied, outperforming other regional markets. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index advanced 1.5 percent by 3:08 p.m. HK/SIN, with the services and materials sectors leading the gains before the market close.

On the mainland, the Shanghai composite rose 2.49 percent to close at 2,815.51 as banks and insurers notched gains. The smaller Shenzhen composite gained 2.51 percent to end at 1,574.54 and the blue-chip CSI 300 index surged 2.8 percent.

MSCI’s broad index of shares in Asia Pacific outside of Japan rose 1.28 percent in Asia afternoon trade as nervousness seen in the markets recently appeared to somewhat subside.

Trade takes a backseat, for now

The improvement in sentiment in the session came after Friday’s developments on the trade front when U.S. tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods took effect, ramping up the country’s ongoing trade spat with China.

China followed up by promptly imposing duties of its own on the same value of U.S. products. China’s Ministry of Commerce said it had no choice but to respond to the U.S. after the latter “launched the largest trade war in economic history.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that an additional $16 billion of Chinese goods would be subject to tariffs in two weeks, and that he was considering further slapping duties on an additional $500 billion in Chinese products.

“Trade talk, which is now becoming trade action, is creating uncertainty and starting to hurt business,” David Lafferty, chief market strategist at Natixis Investment Managers, said in a recent note. “Inflation and higher prices are the least of my worries … Disrupting global supply chains is a bigger risk than the dollar value of the tariffs themselves,” he added.

Markets in Asia had taken a hit last week in the lead-up to U.S. and China tariffs kicking in on Friday, with investors jittery over the prospects of further escalation in tensions between the world’s two largest economies having an impact on economic growth.

Monday’s gains also came on the back of an advance in U.S. stocks on Friday as better-than-expected jobs data stateside overshadowed tariffs kicking in. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.41 percent, or 99.74 points, to close at 24,456.48 and the Nasdaq composite surged 1.34 percent.

The U.S. economy added 213,000 jobs in June, topping the 195,000 forecast in a Reuters poll. Wage growth, however, slightly missed expectations.

“Overall, it was a solid report and there is no evidence of any let-up in labor market strength … The momentum in the jobs data is still consistent with the Fed hiking in September,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

In corporate news, smartphone maker Xiaomi debuted for trade in Hong Kong on Monday after the company priced its initial public offering at 17 Hong Kong dollars ($2.17) per share, the low end of an indicative range. Xiaomi said last month that it did not have a time frame for its share offering on the mainland.

The dollar was broadly softer, with the dollar index at 93.839 at 3:02 p.m. HK/SIN, compared to levels above the 94 level last week. Against the yen, the dollar edged up to 110.50.

The Chinese currency was firmer on Monday amid, with the on-shore yuan trading at 6.6203 at 3:18 p.m. HK/SIN, around 0.4 percent firmer from Friday’s close.

“Predictably, we have seen a fair amount of short-covering in risk proxies as the dust settled over the latest blows in the trade war. How far it has to run is anyone’s guess, but make the most of it; the rally will falter as tensions pickup anew down the line,” Sue Trinh, head of Asia foreign exchange strategy at RBC Capital Markets, said in a note.

Elsewhere, British Prime Minister Theresa May last week won agreement from her cabinet to remain in a free trade area for goods with the European Union, which analysts see as a “soft Brexit.” The pound was steady $1.3311 after the U.K.’s Brexit secretary resigned.

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