Asian stocks down as investors seek safe havens before Xi-Trump meeting

A pedestrian walking past an electronic stock indicator flashing the morning closing rate of the Tokyo stock market, on March 28, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

 

[The Straitstimes/Asia News Network] Asian share markets were down in skittish early trade on Tuesday (April 4) as investors held their breath ahead of a potentially tense meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this week.

The US dollar inched lower as investors sold stocks in Europe and on Wall Street overnight to seek shelter in safe havens as political uncertainty overshadowed positive US economic data and solid growth in global manufacturing.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.2 per cent in early trade.

Japan's Nikkei was down 0.4 per cent as investors sought out the safe-haven yen.

China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and India are closed for holidays.

"We head into Tuesday on a distinct risk-off vibe, although the moves in equities are probably best described as 'drift,'rather than a 'spike' lower," Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, wrote in a note.

Overnight, US stock indexes closed in the red after Trump held out the possibility of using trade as a lever to secure Chinese cooperation against North Korea in an interview with the Financial Times on Sunday.

Last week, Trump tweeted that the highly anticipated meeting, which is also expected to cover differences over China's strategic ambitions in the South China Sea, "will be a very difficult one." That has kept investors on edge, knocking riskier assets and forcing investors into safe-havens such as the yen and gold.

European markets hit a 16-month high on Monday but failed to hold on to the gains as risk aversion returned. The pan-European STOXX 600 index closed down 0.5 per cent.

Manufacturers across Europe and much of Asia had solid growth in May, making for a strong quarter overall, but the rise of US protectionism are keeping both investors and companies wary.

The euro was steady early on Tuesday at US$1.06725. The dollar dropped 0.2 per cent to 110.665 yen in its third straight session of losses.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six trade-weighted peers, fell 0.1 per cent to 100.46, although it touched a 2-1/2-week high earlier in the session after data showed US construction spending grew 0.8 per cent to US$1.19 trillion - the highest since April 2006.

The 10-year US Treasury yield fell to 2.3247 in its third consecutive session of declines. It touched a five-week low of 2.321 overnight.

In commodities, crude was steady after overnight losses on a rebound in Libyan output that exacerbated concerns about a glut.

US crude inched up to US$50.27 a barrel.

Gold prices hit a one-week high, benefitting from its status as a safe haven asset. Spot gold was trading almost 0.3 per cent higher at US$1,256.15.