Trump trade threats keep Asia shares down; pound under pressure

As US-China trade talks get underway, US President Trump warns China against waiting to strike a deal.

    Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (centre), US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (right) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (left) resumed trade talks in Shanghai, but Trump's comments on the trade war are dragging Asian shares down [Ng Han Guan/Reuters]
    Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (centre), US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (right) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (left) resumed trade talks in Shanghai, but Trump's comments on the trade war are dragging Asian shares down [Ng Han Guan/Reuters]

    Asian shares weakened in early trade on Wednesday, rattled by fresh trade war concerns following threats from United States President Donald Trump to Beijing, while increasing worries about a no-deal Brexit kept the pound under pressure.

    Later in the day, the US Federal Reserve is widely expected to cut interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis more than a decade ago. The expected easing has supported risk asset prices worldwide.

    MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.04 percent while Japan's Nikkei slid 0.84 percent.

    Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell more than one percent. Anti-government protests continued late into Tuesday evening adding to the political uncertainty surrounding the territory's economy. 

    South Korea's KOSPI Index was down around 1.2 percent. Seoul said North Korea fired multiple unidentified projectiles off its east coast early on Wednesday and Samsung Electronics reported a 56 percent plunge in second-quarter profits. 

    Major Wall Street stock averages ended slightly lower on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 losing 0.26 percent, after Trump warned China against waiting out his current presidential term before finalising a trade deal.

    As a new round of US-China trade negotiations started in Shanghai, Trump tweeted that, if he wins re-election in November 2020, the outcome could be no agreement or a harsher one.

    "Trump's comments suggest that US-China trade negotiations are not going well, which is a new negative factor for the markets," said Osamu Takashima, head of G10 FX strategy at Citigroup Global Markets Japan in Tokyo.

    After the bell, Apple shares rose 4.2 percent as its April-June earnings beat estimates and CEO Tim Cook said "marked improvement in greater China".

    The S&P 500 index has risen 2.4 percent so far this month, bolstered by expectations for Fed easing.

    Investors are now fully pricing in a 25 basis point rate cut on Wednesday and another 25 basis point reduction by September.

    US consumer spending and prices rose moderately in June, pointing to slower economic growth and benign inflation that cemented expectations of Fed rate cuts.

    Trump on Tuesday reiterated his call for the Fed to make a large interest rate cut, saying he was disappointed in the US central bank and that it had put him at a disadvantage by not acting sooner.

    Asia, pound on the back foot

    In Asia, China's factory activity shrank for the third straight month in July, an official survey showed on Wednesday, underlining the need for more stimulus to support an economy that's been hit hard by the trade war with the US.

    In currency markets, the British pound remains near a 28-month low hit the previous day on growing concerns about a disorderly Brexit.

    Sterling traded at $1.2164, up 0.13 percent so far on the day, but not far from $1.2120 marked on Tuesday. It has fallen 4.2 percent so far this month, on course to log its worst monthly performance since October 2016.

    "In addition to Brexit, markets are starting to price in the Bank of England moving to dovish from hawkish at its next meeting, so this drives sterling depreciation," Citigroup's Takashima said.

    Other major currencies were less volatile with the yen flat at 108.58 yen to the dollar. The euro stood little changed at $1.1158.

    Oil prices held firm near two-week highs after two percent gains on Tuesday.

    US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 0.41 percent to $58.29 per barrel in early Asian trade.

    SOURCE: News agencies