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World stocks lifted to 2-1/2 month highs by trade optimism

February 18, 2019 at 11:53am

Hopes of progress in Sino-U.S. trade talks and expectations of policy stimulus from central banks lifted world stocks to 2-1/2 month highs on Monday, though European gains were dampened by concerns over the car sector’s outlook.

MSCI’s All-Country World Index rose 0.3 percent after Japan’s Nikkei closed up 1.8 percent at its highest level of the year and MSCI’s index of Asian equities rose almost one percent. Shanghai blue chips surged 2.7 percent to their highest finish in more than six months.

Trade negotiations between the United States and China will resume this week, with U.S. President Donald Trump saying he may extend a March 1 deadline for a deal. Both sides reported progress at last week’s talks in Beijing.

But the mood was more subdued in Europe, where a pan-European equity index inched to new four-month high but gains were capped by the auto sector, which was hit by data showing Chinese car sales fell 16 percent in January, their seventh straight month of decline.

The autos index, a bellwether for Europe’s economy, fell 0.9 percent, also pressured by fears that a U.S. Commerce Department report to President Trump could unleash steep tariffs on imported cars and auto parts. German shares fell 0.3 percent .

Trump has 90 days to decide whether to act upon the recommendations.

“The optimism on trade has been strong, but the underlying economic data has been a lot of weaker – so you have some push and pull factors,” said David Vickers, senior portfolio manager at Russell Investments, adding much focus was now on flash PMI data due out later in the week.

“As the bounce back from the December lows fades…the fundamentals now reassert itself,” Vickers added.

Recent runs of soft economic data has fuelled expectations that the world’s most powerful central banks could deliver on reflationary policies and provide support for markets.

The need for stimulus was highlighted by data showing a sharp slide in Singapore exports and a big drop in foreign orders for Japanese machinery goods.

SLUGGISH INVESTMENT

Beijing is already taking action with China’s banks making the most new loans on record in January in an attempt to jumpstart sluggish investment.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 were flat as trade was thinned by a holiday in U.S. markets. The Dow and the Nasdaq had boasted their eighth consecutive weekly gains on wagers the U.S. and China would hammer out an agreement resolving their protracted trade war.

Minutes of the Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting are due on Wednesday and should provide more guidance on the likelihood of rate hikes this year. There is also talk the bank will keep a much larger balance sheet than previously planned.

“Given the range of speakers since the January meeting who support “patience,” the Fed minutes should reiterate a dovish message overall,” analysts at TD Securities said in a note.

The dollar was steady on the yen at 110.57, having backed away from a two-month top of 111.12.

Sterling drifted higher after registering three consecutive weeks of losses as investors waited for the outcome of Brexit talks between Britain and the European Union.

British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to speak to every EU leader and the European Commission chief to seek changes to her EU withdrawal agreement, after another defeat from her own lawmakers last week.

All of which left the dollar a shade lower at 96.835 on a basket of currencies and away from last week’s top of 97.368.

On commodity markets, oil prices reached their highest for the year, buoyed by OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Brent crude futures rose a quarter percent to $66.30.

(Reuters)