Asia stocks traded lower Thursday afternoon following a report that an anticipated “phase one” trade deal between the U.S. and China may not be inked by the end of 2019.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index led losses among major Asian indexes as it fell 1.61% by the afternoon, with shares of life insurer AIA falling 1.74%.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 0.73% in afternoon trade, with shares of Tokyo Electron falling more than 3%. The Topix index was 0.5% lower. In South Korea, the Kospi shed 1.32% as shares of industry heavyweight Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix fell by more than 2% each.
Mainland Chinese stocks declined also declined by the afternoon, with the Shanghai composite down 0.39% and the Shenzhen component shedding 0.47%. The Shenzhen composite also slipped 0.357%.
Meanwhile, Australian stocks declined as the S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.8%. Shares of Westpac dropped about 2%, after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on the lender’s board to reflect “very deeply” over the future of the firm’s CEO.
That decline follows a more than 3% drop on Wednesday after Australia’s anti money-laundering and terrorism financing regulator filed for civil penalty orders against the firm, alleging its “oversight of the banking and designated services provided through its corresponding banking relationships was deficient.”.
Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index traded 1.12% lower.
US-China trade deal doubts
Reuters reported, citing trade experts and people close to U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, the completion of a partial trade deal could be pushed into 2020 as China seeks more extensive tariff rollbacks. That report came after The Wall Street Journal reported, citing former Trump administration officials, that the ongoing trade talks could hit an impasse.
The developments come as Dec. 15 looms, when more tariffs on Chinese goods to the U.S. are set to kick in.
The matter was further complicated by U.S. Congress passing a Hong Kong rights bill, amid ongoing turmoil in the city that has been plagued by civil unrest for months. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing “condemns and firmly opposes” the first bill, known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
One strategist told CNBC on Thursday that the situation “feels a bit alarming.”
“These tensions increase just when it seemed ... there may finally be a deal,” Anthony Raza, head of multi-asset strategy at UOB Asset Management, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday. He described the situation as “frustrating.”
“We can try to do all our assessment on economic projections and model things out but in the end, this feels like a bit of a wildcard,” he said. “We don’t quite know how … these negotiations will go. We don’t quite know how Trump’s gonna react to certain requests. And therefore … as an investor … that’s a level of uncertainty … that doesn’t feel very comfortable.”
“I think eventually we’ll see a trade deal, but whether we will see one before the end of this year remains to be seen,” Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at Singapore’s OCBC Bank., told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Thursday.
“It may spook markets short term, cause a pullback, but I think markets are still hopeful that some form of a phase one — perhaps watered-down — deal will be still seen down the road,” Menon said.
Currencies and oil
The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against its peers, was at 97.885 after seeing highs around 98.0 yesterday.
The Japanese yen, often seen as a safe-haven currency in times of market uncertainty and turmoil, traded at 108.50 against the dollar after touching an earlier high of 108.27. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6796 after slipping from highs above $0.681 in the previous session.
Oil prices declined in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures slipping 0.29% to $62.22 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also shed 0.26% to $56.86 per barrel.