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Stocks greet sign of trade truce extension with glee

European stocks rise after Asian rally

By Reuters - Feb 13,2019 - Last updated at Feb 13,2019

Pedestrians walk past the closing rate of the Tokyo Stock Exchange displayed in the window of a security company in Tokyo on Tuesday (AFP photo)

LONDON — Investors hungry for progress on resolving a US-China trade war seized on US President Donald Trump's comment that he could let a March 1 deadline for a deal with China "slide", taking this as a cue to buy stocks and sell bonds on Wednesday. 

As US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer prepared for talks in Beijing to hammer out a trade deal, markets cheered the signal that there could be an extension to a tariff truce.

European shares followed Asia's lead with the pan-European STOXX 600 up 0.4 per cent, slightly weakening by midday, while US futures climbed 0.2 per cent.

Chemicals, carmakers and luxury goods saw the biggest gains as investors snatched stocks whose valuations have been hit by trade tariffs and a slowdown in China.

China's blue-chip CSI 300 rose around 2 per cent to a four-month high overnight, with IT shares leading gains.

Trump said on Tuesday that he could see letting the March 1 deadline for reaching a trade agreement with China "slide for a little while" if the two sides were close to a complete deal.

He added he is "not inclined" to delay raising tariffs.

"There's still a level of uncertainty there but at least the rhetoric does not show he is digging his heels in, so the market has quite rightly taken it as a positive," said Justin Onuekwusi, fund manager at Legal & General Investment Management. 

"But of course the key thing is he can change his mind."

Investors remained concerned about underlying trends of slowing economic growth and weaker earnings. Analysts have slashed their 2019 earnings growth estimates for developed stocks from around 10 per cent to 5 per cent. 

As investors went back into risky assets they sold safe-haven government bonds, driving yields up. The 10-year US Treasury yield hit a one-week high at 2.7 per cent.

In Europe, political uncertainty in Spain bubbled up.

Spain's IBEX fell into the red, down 0.2 per cent, and Spanish bond yields rose after parliament rejected the Socialist government's 2019 budget proposal, raising the chances of a snap general election.

"If they do call elections we may see a bit of noise in the near term, but for us that would be one to fade because the tail risks are pretty low in terms of getting a party that's negative for markets," said Mohammed Kazmi, portfolio manager at UBP in Geneva.

Central bank support 

 

Risk assets have also been helped up by central banks' dovish shift.

The Federal Reserve (Fed) will chart plans to stop letting its bond holdings roll off "at coming meetings", Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester said on Tuesday, signalling another major policy shift for the Fed after pausing interest rate hikes.

"Mester's comments follow on quite clearly from what Powell said at the recent press conference, which was already quite a dovish shift which the market wasn't expecting," said UBP's Kazmi.

"Everyone wants to catch this rally because they know at some point it will fade, there will have to be some sort of adjustment later this year because this is pretty much as dovish as [the Fed] can get without moving to a rate cut."

Progress on another issue unnerving markets — the US government shutdown — also provided a boost to risk appetite.

The Cboe Volatility Index, Wall Street's so-called "fear gauge", dropped overnight to 14.95, its lowest level since October.

The US dollar was on the defensive: its index against six major currencies barely managed a 0.1 per cent rise to 96.793.

Slipping deadlines were front and centre not only on the trade war front but also in Brexit.

Sterling held flat against the dollar as investors awaited a Brexit debate in parliament later in the day, during which proposals on Brexit extension would be discussed once again.

Emerging market stocks faltered, trading flat on the day. BAML on Tuesday said investors saw emerging markets as the "most crowded" trade, for the first time ever.

In commodities, oil prices surged after OPEC said it cut production sharply in January, and as US sanctions hit Venezuela's oil exports.

US WTI crude oil futures were up 1.1 per cent at $53.71 per barrel, while Brent crude futures rose 1.3 per cent to $63.23.

London copper prices eyed their first session of gains in five as hopes of a trade deal soothed concerns over the economy in China, the world's biggest metals consumer.

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