Picture: 123RF/PAVEL IGNATOV
Picture: 123RF/PAVEL IGNATOV

Tokyo — Asian stocks clung to narrow ranges on Wednesday as investors awaited fresh clues on the progress of US-China trade negotiations, with a weaker Wall Street finish capping broader gains.

Robust US economic data supported the dollar, but its Australian counterpart slid after data showed the economy slowed more than expected in the fourth quarter.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan nudged up 0.05%, while Japan’s Nikkei declined 0.6%.

The Shanghai Composite index was up 0.3% as China’s state planner said the government will boost domestic consumption further in 2019. Beijing announced billions of dollar in tax cuts and infrastructure spending on Tuesday to reduce the risk of a sharper economic slowdown.

Australian stocks added 0.7% as mining stocks climbed on the prospect of increased Chinese stimulus.

Wall Street dipped on Tuesday as a drop in General Electric shares countered positive retailer earnings and investors eyed a key resistance level for the benchmark S&P 500 after the market’s run to a five-month peak on Monday.

A report from the Institute for Supply Management showed US non-manufacturing sector companies in February placing the most new orders since August 2005, an indicator of robust health.

“In the short term, the equity markets will likely focus on positive factors such as the strong US ISM data,” said Soichiro Monji, senior economist at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo.

“Steady US growth is a stronger theme than slowing Chinese growth, especially with Sino-US trade talks seemingly headed for some kind of a conclusion.”

Beijing revealed at the annual meeting of its parliament on Tuesday that it is targeting economic growth of 6%-6.5% in 2019, less than the 6.6% GDP growth reported in 2018.

On the trade front, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Monday he thought the US and China were “on the cusp” of a deal to end their trade war. Pompeo added on Tuesday that “things are in a good place, but it’s got to be right.”

In the currency market, the dollar held gains after rising against its peers on Tuesday’s upbeat ISM nonmanufacturing sector report.

The dollar was a touch lower at ¥111.775 after going as high as ¥112.135 overnight, its strongest since December 20.

The euro was little changed at $1.1298 following a decline of 0.3% the previous day, when it plumbed a two-week trough of $1.1289.

The Australian dollar was hit after data showed the economy expanded 0.2% in the fourth quarter, slower than the 0.3% increase economists had forecast in a Reuters poll. The Aussie was down 0.6% at $0.7042 following a slip to a two-month trough of $0.7035.

US crude oil futures were down 1 percent at $56.03 a barrel after data from the American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry group, showed a larger-than-expected increase in US crude stockpiles.

Brent crude eased 0.85% to $65.31 a barrel.

Reuters