Most Asian markets up as Syria, trade fears subside

HONG KONG, China (AFP) — Asian markets mostly rose Friday as Donald Trump soothed concerns about military action in Syria while also sparking hopes the US could rejoin a massive Pacific-wide free-trade pact.

The US president on Wednesday sent shudders across trading floors when he warned “missiles will be coming” to Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Russia-backed regime, fuelling fears of a stand-off between the major powers.

But he tempered the rhetoric a day later suggesting he might hold off an imminent strike while he holds talks with France and Britain on how to deal with the crisis.

As investors digested the remarks, it emerged Trump had directed senior aides to explore rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he left on becoming president calling it a US jobs killer.

The U-turn came as he suggested the US and China might not eventually impose tariffs on each other’s goods, despite recent tit-for-tat warnings affecting hundreds of billions of dollars of trade.

That followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s conciliatory speech this week promising to open up his economy.

The developments have provided a huge lift to markets, which were sent into turmoil when Trump last Friday threatened fresh tariffs on a vast array of Chinese imports, fanning fears of a trade war between the world’s top two economic powers.

Trump also said Thursday the review of a trade pact with Canada and Mexico was “coming along great.”

‘Back from the brink’

“Remarkable. That’s the only thing I can really say in the past 36 hours or so about the change in tone that seems to be emanating from the president and the White House,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

“President Trump is walking back from the brink on so many fronts it’s making my head spin,” he added.

“It’s becoming clear his tweets are part of an anchoring approach he uses in negotiations and then eases away from to achieve what he wants. It’s working on many fronts and he’s eased back on China and Russia/Syria this week and there was news last night he’s even reconsidering the TPP.”

All three main indexes in New York ended sharply higher.

Tokyo’s Nikkei was up 0.6 percent, while Sydney gained 0.4 percent, Seoul added 0.6 percent and Singapore put on 0.7 percent. Wellington and Taipei were also higher.

However, Shanghai was 0.2 percent off, while Hong Kong dipped 0.1 percent as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city’s de facto central bank, intervened in currency markets for the first time since 2005 as it looks to shore up the local dollar, which fell below 7.85 per US dollar, the weakest point of its trading band.

The move comes as masses of cash in the city’s economy mean local interest rates have not been able to rise alongside those of the Federal Reserve. This has seen investors buy more US dollars to benefit from the better returns in the United States.

The prospect that rates in the southern Chinese city could rise weighed on most property firms on the Hang Seng.

In Singapore, authorities effectively tightened monetary policy as the city-state’s economy continues to improve and inflation picks up, though still at a moderate pace.

On oil markets, the easing of fears about a possible US strike in Syria saw prices slip, having rallied in recent days to highs not seen since the end of 2014.

Key figures around 0335 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.6 percent at 21,749.52

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 30,808.19

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,174.43

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2331 from $1.2329 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 107.40 yen from 107.26

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.4238 from $1.4230

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 18 cents at $66.89 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN 20 cents at $71.82 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 1.2 percent at 24,483.05 (close)

London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,258.34 (close)

© Agence France-Presse