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Markets Uneasy Over Geopolitical Posturing

  • US-China trade row, N. Korea situation cast pall over investors

Ever-pessimistic pundits may be feeling vindicated after global risk went on a roller-coaster ride. The tensions could well carry over into the next few days.

Last week, no sooner had the United States Treasury Secretary pronounced a trade war with China “on hold” than President Donald Trump declared that he was “not satisfied” with bilateral talks.

Then, as soon as North Korea professed that its nuclear test site had been dismantled, Mr Trump called off a summit with the regime’s leader Kim Jong Un that would have been held in Singapore next month.

United Overseas Bank’s global economics and market research team called the move “the biggest geopolitical bombshell of the week”.

Adding to the gloom was the warning by DBS economists Taimur Baig and Irvin Seah that people should brace themselves for an earnings downgrade in Asian equities. They wrote: “As the global synchronised recovery starts to show signs of fatigue, earlier high expectations that the recovery is sustainable will have to be toned down.

“In the near term, macro headwinds of volatility in currencies, oil prices, interest rates and trade wars should pose further risks to Asia corporate earnings for most sectors, and we expect more downgrades… in the second half.”

But Mr Eli Lee, head of investment strategy at Bank of Singapore, had a different reading of the US-North Korea issue, arguing that both sides had indicated a continued openness to future dialogue.

“The market correction may have been premature, in our view. We advise clients not to overreact, but to stay engaged and nimble in the market.”

Traders might be able to enjoy a brief reprieve after the weekend. Today, the US market will be shut for Memorial Day and Britain’s market will close for its spring bank holiday. Singapore and several neighbouring markets will be closed tomorrow for Vesak Day.

Still, on top of the drama coming out of the White House, markets will also have to digest not just last week’s economic data – such as Singapore’s latest inflation, factory output and gross domestic product (GDP) numbers – but also the figures that are coming out this week.

Forthcoming figures include US GDP numbers on Wednesday and jobs data on Friday; Japanese retail sales on Wednesday and industrial production data on Thursday; and China’s purchasing managers’ index readings, an early sign of manufacturing sentiment, on Thursday.

IG Asia market strategist Pan Jingyi remarked: “Key markets in the region, including the Nikkei, Hang Seng Index and Straits Times Index (STI), can be seen caught in consolidation, certainly still hunting for direction with the jam-packed week of tier-one (data) releases ahead.”

The STI closed last Friday at 3,513.23, down by 0.45 per cent on the week before.

Ms Pan predicted an immediate support level of 3,509 for the index at the reopen, with resistance to be seen at 3,550.


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