SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stocks drifted on Wednesday as Sino-U.S. trade talks showed little progress ahead of a weekend deadline for the imposition of additional U.S. tariffs, and the pound wobbled as opinion polls pointed to a tight British election on Thursday.
FILE PHOTO: A woman points to an electronic board showing stock prices as she poses in front of the board after the New Year opening ceremony at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE), held to wish for the success of Japan’s stock market, in Tokyo, Japan, January 4, 2019. REUTERS
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan drifted 0.1% higher, as markets in the region wavered either side of flat. Japan’s Nikkei traded 0.2% lower, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose by the same margin.
Shanghai blue chips added 0.1%. U.S. stock futures were 0.1% lower.
Faced with often conflicting reports, investors have begun to suspect that even if U.S. tariffs due to take effect on Sunday are delayed, it could take until 2020 before Washington and Beijing can agree a preliminary deal to wind back their trade war.
“Every day we get a little bit of a nudge one way or the other,” said Rob Carnell, Asia-Pacific chief economist at ING in Singapore. “You just don’t know who to believe, whether these comments have any basis in reality or whether they’re a negotiating tactic.”
In the absence of harder news on the trade front, investors’ focus was locked on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy meeting and its outlook for the economy due at 2000 GMT, as well as Britain’s election.
The Fed is widely expected to hold rates steady, with investors interested in whether the central bank changes its view of the economy and its 2% growth forecast for next year.
U.S. inflation data due at 1330 GMT, expected to hold steady, may further reduce chances for rate cuts next year should it surprise on the upside.
The biggest mover of the morning among currencies was the British pound, which shed 0.3% to hit $1.3128 after a closely watched YouGov poll showed the ruling Conservatives tracking toward a much slimmer majority than forecast a fortnight ago.
The pound recouped some losses during the day, but still sat well under the eight-month high struck overnight, when investors were more confident of a Conservative victory and expected it could end uncertainty over Britain’s exit from the European Union.
YouGov’s research director, however, said the results showed a hung parliament was possible.
“Granted, this still portrays a Tory (Conservative) majority but given what is already priced … the actual outcome has resulted in some of the heat coming out of a fairly frothy market,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone.
While China and the United States have still to settle differences on trade, officials from Canada, Mexico and the United States signed a fresh overhaul of the quarter-century-old North American trade pact.
A Wall Street Journal report that said U.S. and Chinese officials were preparing for a delay to the Dec. 15 round of tariffs knocked bonds but did not shift stocks since it suggested no resolution to the trade conflict.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump would make a decision soon on whether to enforce or suspend the tariffs.
Overnight the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 each fell 0.1%, while the Nasdaq dropped by a little less.
The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes, which moves inversely to price, last stood a little higher at 1.8329%.
Elsewhere among currencies, the dollar nursed overnight losses against the euro after German economic sentiment sharply rose after an unexpected rebound in October exports.
The kiwi dollar drifted 0.3% lower to $0.6526 as the government trimmed its growth forecasts and announced a long-term fiscal spending program.
U.S. crude dipped 0.5% to $58.92 a barrel, while gold was steady at $1464.80 per ounce.
Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore