Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Shanghai — Shares in Asia staggered on Monday as China’s markets stumbled despite its central bank moving to pump more liquidity into the broader economy, as worries grow of a sharp knock to growth from an escalating trade dispute with the US.

The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) on Sunday cut the level of cash that banks must hold as reserves, aimed at lowering financing costs as policymakers worry about fallout from the tariff row with the US.

Reserve requirement ratios (RRRs) — currently 15.5% for large commercial lenders and 13.5 percent for smaller banks — would be cut by 100 basis points effective October 15, the PBoC said, matching a similar-sized move in April.

Asian shares were also hit on Monday as investors in Chinese stocks reacted for the first time to new pressure from Washington and a report that Chinese spies had compromised US hardware.

China’s blue-chip CSI300 index was 3.6% lower in morning trade, while the country’s main Shanghai Composite Index lost 3%. The tech-heavy ChiNext board fell 2.9%.

“We expect the PBoC will continue its easing efforts to keep liquidity ample and loosen its credit control to make funds more accessible to the broader economy,” BofA Merrill Lynch analysts said in a note.

“Moreover, there is still room for further RRR cuts when necessary, though the chance for an interest rate cut is limited given the continued Fed rate hiking cycle, in our view.”

On Thursday, US Vice-President Mike Pence highlighted disputes with China on issues such as cyber attacks, Taiwan, freedom of the seas and human rights, marking a sharpened US approach toward China beyond a bitter trade war.

Then on Friday, Chinese technology stocks listed in Hong Kong, including Lenovo and ZTE, slumped on a Bloomberg report that the systems of multiple US companies had been compromised by malicious computer chips inserted by Chinese spies.

Lenovo was 1.6% lower in Hong Kong on Monday, and ZTE fell 2.5%. ZTE’s Shenzhen-listed shares plunged 6.4 percent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 0.9%.

The losses in China dragged down MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan, which was 0.8% lower. China’s yuan was weaker at 6.8979 per U.S. dollar at 3.33am GMT, compared with a previous onshore close of 6.8725 to the dollar. Earlier on Monday the PBoC set the midpoint of the yuan’s daily trading band at 6.8957 to the dollar, its weakest level since May 11, 2017.

The offshore yuan was also weaker at 6.9039 to the dollar.

Higher yields on US treasuries are likely to put more pressure on the yuan as China continues to make use of targeted policy easing to energise the domestic economy.

On Monday, the spread between Chinese and US 10-year treasury bonds was 58.4 basis points (bps), compared with 150 bps at the end of 2017.

Equity markets around the world came under pressure last week after a steep sell-off in US treasuries, prompted by hawkish comments from US Federal Reserve officials and data widely seen as supporting further U.S. rate hikes.

Friday’s US nonfarm payrolls showed job creation slowed in September, probably from Hurricane Florence’s impact on restaurant and retail payrolls, but the labour department report also showed a rise in wages that could keep the Federal Reserve on track for more interest rate hikes.

Investors are also keeping an eye on Brazil after right-wing congressman Jair Bolsonaro won nearly half the votes in Brazil's first-round presidential election on Sunday, marking a major shift to the right in Latin America's largest nation fuelled by voters’ anger at corruption.

In currency markets, the dollar was 0.1% stronger against the yen at ¥113.83, while the euro was 0.08% weaker against the dollar at $1.1514.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was up 0.07% at 95.694.

Oil prices fell more than 1% after the US said it may grant waivers to sanctions against Iran’s oil exports in November, and as Saudi Arabia was said to be replacing any potential shortfall from Iran.

US crude was down 0.8% at $73.74 a barrel. Brent crude fell 1.1% to $83.25 a barrel.

Spot gold fell 0.5% to $1,196.51/oz.