Asian markets mostly higher on optimism about US-China deal

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TOKYO (AP) – Asian shares were mostly higher on optimism about a U.S.-China trade deal as regional markets opened the new year’s first day of trading Thursday.

Australia’s S&P ASX 200 gained 0.3% in morning trading to 6,704.00, while South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.8% to 2,179.25. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 1.2% to 28,516.99, while the Shanghai Composite gained 1.5% to 3,095.00. Tokyo was still closed for the New Year’s holiday.

Regional market sentiment has been on an upswing after President Donald Trump said an initial trade deal with China would be signed later this month. The “Phase 1” trade deal calls for the U.S. to reduce tariffs and China to buy larger quantities of U.S. farm products.

Weighing on the optimism was an announcement earlier in the week from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that his country will soon reveal a new strategic weapon and that North Korea was no longer obligated to maintain a self-imposed suspension on the testing of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But some market observers said Kim’s comments were not specific enough to dampen optimism.

“The clear lack of details on both the threat itself and the timing, over and above the evident desensitized state of the market in previous tests, underpins this lack of reaction,” Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore, said.

Adding to the optimism was China’s central bank announcement Wednesday it will cut the amount of money banks will be required to have on hand from Jan. 6 in an effort to boost the slowing economy.

The People’s Bank of China said the reserve requirement ratio for financial institutions would be lowered by 50 basis points, a move that’s expected to release about 800 billion yuan ($114.6 billion) into the economy for lending purposes.

That will boost the economy ahead of the Lunar New Year that falls on Jan. 25. Companies and individuals typically need large amounts of cash on hand during China’s most important annual holiday to pay bonuses, clear debts and cover other expenses.

U.S. trading was closed Wednesday for the New Year’s holiday and opens Thursday.

On Tuesday, the last day of trading for 2019, the S&P 500 rose 9.49 points, or 0.3%, to 3,230.78. The Dow gained 76.30 points, or 0.3%, to 28,538.44. The Nasdaq climbed 26.61 points, or 0.3%, to 8,972.60.

The Russell 2000 index picked up 4.32 points, or 0.3%, to 1,668.47. The index ended the year with a gain of 23.7%.

Wall Street closed the books on a blockbuster 2019 for stock investors, with the broader market delivering its best returns in six years.

The S&P 500 finished with a gain of 28.9% for the year, or a total return of 31.5%, including dividends. The Nasdaq composite rose 35.3%. For both indexes it was the best annual performance since 2013. Technology stocks helped power those gains by vaulting 48%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 22.3%, led by Apple.

ENERGY:

Benchmark U.S. crude oil gained 27 cents to $61.33 a barrel. It lost 62 cents to settle at $61.06 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 30 cents to $66.30 per barrel.

CURRENCIES:

The dollar rose to 108.66 yen from 108.53 yen. It inched down to $1.1224 from $1.1231.

Jung Ji-won, third from left, chief executive of the Korea Exchange, and Financial Services Commission Chairman Eun Sung-soo, fourth from left, applaud with other participants during the opening of this year’s trading in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. The sign read: “Opening ceremony of 2020 trading.” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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