Global stocks edged cautiously higher Thursday, boosted by signals of moderate progress in trade talks between Washington and Beijing and data showing a surprise jump in January China export activity, although gains were capped by disappointing economic data from Germany.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters in Beijing he was “looking forward to discussions today” as he headed off to meetings with China’s Vice Premier, Liu He, in the Chinese capital. President Donald Trump has said several times this week that talks are going “very well”, and Bloomberg reported that he is considering expending the March 2 deadline by 60 days in order to ensure that a comprehensive deal is ultimately agreed between the world’s two biggest economies.
Trade data from China’s customs office was also broadly positive, with exports rising 9.1% from last year, compared to a 4.4% decline in December, offsetting another dip in overall imports of 1.5%. China’s trade surplus with the United States remained elevated, at $27.3 billion, but a 42% slump in U.S. imports, led by a big decline in soybean purchases, likely adds pressure on both sides of the negotiations to reach a deal.
Asia stocks were essentially flat on the session, however, with investors unwilling to reach for risk with so many variables outstanding on trade, politics and economic fundamentals, with the MSCI ex-Japan index slipping 0.04% from a four month high and the Nikkei 225 closing 0.02% lower at 21,139.71 even as the yen weakened to 111.06 against the U.S. dollar.
Investors in Asia are sitting on the sidelines as they cautiously await the outcome of high-level trade talks between the U.S. and China, said FXTM’s chief market strategist Hussein Sayed. “With the earnings season almost coming to an end, asset prices will begin to fluctuate on daily news headlines. So far, it seems we have more positive than negative news which may continue to support equities.”
Wall Street futures, however, look slightly firmer, with contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average indicating a 55 point opening bell gain and those linked to the S&P 500 suggesting a 4.5 point bump ahead of fourth quarter earnings from CBS (CBS) , Kraft Heinz (KHC) and Coca-Cola (KO) before the start of trading and Applied Materials (AMAT) and Nvidia (NVDA) after the bell.
Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) shares were indicated sharply higher in pre-market trading Thursday after the network equipment maker posted better-than-expected second quarter earnings and said growth from its newer business units would continue to drive sales over the near term.
European stocks were also stronger at the start of trading Thursday, with the Stoxx 600 rising 0.35% to a three-month high in Frankfurt as the euro eased to 1.1277 against the U.S. dollar after data showed that while Germany narrowly avoided a technical recession over the final three months of last year, growth in Europe’s biggest economy ground to a halt amid global trade tensions and uncertainty surrounding Britain’s impending exit from the European Union.
Airbus SE (EADSY) shares traded at an all-time high after the Franco-German planemaker and key Boeing Co. (BA) rival posted stronger-than-expected fourth quarter earnings, issued a robust 2019 outlook for aircraft deliveries and said it would formally scrap it struggling A380 jump jet program.
The pound was also weaker in early London trading, sliding to 1.2844 against the greenback, with traders citing the increasing parliamentary complexity in the government’s Brexit plans, which many see as raising the risk that Britain may crash out of the EU without a bespoke trade deal on March 29.
That said, the weaker pound, as well as firmer global oil prices, helped the FTSE 100 gain around 0.27% by mid-morning in London.
Global oil prices were also supported by the January China trade data, which showed crude imports rose 4.8% from last year to pass the 10 million barrel per day mark for the third consecutive month, suggesting government plans to stimulate growth in the world’s second largest economy are well under way.
Late Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration said domestic crude inventories rose by a much-larger-than-expected 3.68 million barrels last week, taking the total to 450.84 million, the highest since November 2017. The figures offset forecasts for weaker demand and record U.S. supply from the International Energy Agency earlier in the session and sent prices higher in market around the world.
Brent crude contracts for April delivery, the global benchmark, were marked 94 cents higher from their Wednesday close in New York and changing hands at $64.350 per barrel, the highest since November 21 and a move that extends gains from the December 24 trough past 25%.
WTI contracts for March delivery — which closed at the lowest level in two weeks earlier this week — were seen 54 cents higher at $54.44 per barrel, the highest since February 4.