Global shares reach record highs on trade optimism, festive cheer - GulfToday

Global shares reach record highs on trade optimism, festive cheer


Shoppers hunt for bargains during the Boxing Day sales in central London on Friday. Agence France-Presse

World stocks scaled record highs on Friday and oil prices stayed buoyant in a holiday-shortened week, as optimism grew that a US-China trade deal would soon be signed.

Traders returned from their Christmas and Boxing Day break to digest comments from Beijing that it was in close contact with Washington about an initial trade agreement. Earlier, US President Donald Trump had talked up a signing ceremony for the recently struck phase-one trade deal.

Rising to another record high, European shares were on course for their best year since the financial crisis. The pan-European STOXX 600 index was up 0.2%, helped by gains in export-heavy German shares. The benchmark index has reached record highs for three sessions in a row.

The FTSE 100, set for its best run in three years, added 0.4%. Mining companies provided the biggest boost, with Glencore Plc and BHP Group Plc climbing about 2% each.

The positive tone was set in Asia. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan jumped 0.8% to 555.39, a level not seen since mid-2018. It is up 15.5% so far this year.

China’s blue-chip CSI300 was down 0.1%, although for the week the index was up 0.1%.

Profits at industrial companies in China in November grew at the fastest pace in eight months, breaking a three-month declining streak, as production and sales quickened. But broad weakness in domestic demand remains a risk for earnings next year, say analysts.

The rally in global shares contrasts with a plunge late last year, when the Sino-US trade war had sapped investor confidence. The worries scuttled capital expenditure plans over much of 2019, but strong employment and signs of an improving global economy suggest that will change next year.

The US Federal Reserve’s policy easing, economic data that have come in above expectations, and corporate profits have helped lift stocks this year, along with trade-related optimism. Markets are now waiting for January’s fourth-quarter financial results to see whether sentiment among companies has improved.

But some analysts are wary about risks ahead in 2020.

“The trade war... is far from over,” Piotr Matys, FX strategist at Rabobank, wrote in a research note. “In our view, this is just a temporary truce. Another unsolved major issue is Brexit. Geopolitical risk can suddenly resurface.” Easing uncertainty about Britain’s exit from the European Union helped sterling gain to a four-day high of 85.17 pence against the euro.

The rise was helped by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s saying the EU may need to extend the deadline for talks about a new trade relationship with Britain.

After being battered during 2019 by hedge funds betting on its weakening, the euro rose on Friday to an eight-day high of $1.1142.

Against the Japanese yen, the US dollar showed some weakness, falling 0.2% to 109.48 yen. But the dollar was not far off the six-month high of 109.73 yen it reached at the beginning of this month.

The trade-sensitive Aussie dollar rose as high as $0.6958 against its US counterpart, a five-month high.

Oil prices hit three-month highs. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose to $68.14 per barrel, extending gains for a fourth session. US West Texas Intermediate gained 22 cents to $61.90 a barrel. Brent has rallied about 25% in 2019, supported by supply cuts in oil-exporting countries Gold prices eased from a near two-month high hit earlier in the session as investors booked profits amid thin holiday trade. It was still on course for its biggest weekly gain since early August. Spot gold was 0.01% down to $1,510.80 per ounce. Oil prices rose on Friday, hitting three-month highs, as upbeat economic data from China and the United States indicated an end to the trade war between Washington and Beijing has restored confidence in the global growth.

Brent crude was up 29 cents, or 0.4%, at $68.21 a barrel at 0903 GMT. The West Texas Intermediate was up 24 cents, or 0.4%, at $61.92 a barrel.

Volume of oil trade remained thin in the Christmas holidays and New Year breaks. Data on Friday showed profits at China’s industrial firms rose at the fastest pace in eight months in November.

Among sectors, the chemical, petroleum processing and steel industries reported recovering profits last month due to rebounding market demand and rising prices amid easing trade hostilities with Washington. China and the United States cooled their 17-month long trade war earlier this month, announcing a Phase 1 agreement that would reduce some US tariffs in exchange for more Chinese purchases of American farm products.

The lingering ripple effect of the trade row, however, showed up in data from Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, on Friday as industrial output shrank for a second month in November.

In the United States, a survey on Thursday showed that online holiday purchases by US consumers reached a record, beating analysts’ expectations and sending US stocks to fresh.

US consumers are “showing few signs of tightening their purse strings, which is positive for oil also,” said Stephen Innes chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader.


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