Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS

London — World shares touched a 21-month high on Monday on signs that the US and China could soon put an end to a damaging trade war as well as indications that the world may yet dodge an economic recession.

Beijing and Washington spoke on Friday of progress in talks aimed at settling a trade dispute that has bruised the global economy and repeatedly shaken financial markets, with US officials saying a deal could be signed this month.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, climbed 0.2% to its highest since February 2018, with major European indexes following Asia upwards.

The broader Euro Stoxx 600 rose 0.6%, with Frankfurt's main index, seen as highly exposed to the trade war, climbing 0.8% to reach its highest since June last year. Wall Street futures gained 0.4%.

The optimistic tone reached currency markets, too, as the Chinese yuan rose to a 12-week high vs the dollar.

Investors expect the world's two biggest economies to reach a “phase one” trade deal, with US President Donald Trump hoping to sign an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The key date in focus is December 15, when new US tariffs on Chinese imports from toys to electronics are due to kick in.

Both sides have an interest in averting those tariffs, with Trump in particular seen as aiming to reap political benefits from sealing a deal ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“It will be a convenient decision for President Trump to let phase one be signed,” said Alessia Berardi, senior economist at Amundi. “This is a kind of low-hanging fruit to collect and is very much possible.”

Still, Berardi warned that intellectual property would be a thornier issue and could yet complicate talks in 2020.

Earlier, the positive mood on trade had sent Asian stocks surging, with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up 1.2%.

Indices in Hong Kong and Seoul gained 1.7% and 1.$% respectively, while mainland Chinese blue chips added 0.7%.

Also emboldening investors was a sense that a global recession, predicted by many economists and investors to hit in 2020, was a diminishing risk.

On Friday, a better-than-expected US jobs report added to signs of economic resilience. Job growth slowed less than expected in October, with hiring in the two months before that better than previously estimated.

“The macro environment is still resilient, stabilised and maybe even showing signs of improvement — and that is a net positive for risky assets,” said Olivier Marciot, senior portfolio manager at Unigestion.

Bond markets, too, suggested that the US may have dodged a slowdown. The three-month to 10-year treasury yield curve — a key warning sign of US recession when inverted — is rising again after staying in negative territory for long periods since May.

And on the earnings front, US results are for the third straight quarter defying expectations for an annual aggregate contraction.

“Expectations were low going into earnings, and things are getting better than expected,” Marciot said.

Waiting for Lagarde

As the Chinese yuan strengthened, the euro trod water. Investors were waiting for Christine Lagarde's first speech as European Central Bank president.

Markets are assuming that Lagarde, due to talk at 6pm GMT, will stick with the easy policy script of her predecessor, Mario Draghi.

Lagarde has struck a balanced tone in recent comments, saying an accommodative monetary policy was needed but also had side effects that needed monitoring.

The euro was last flat at $1.1165, close to the $1.1180 high reached last month. The dollar against a basket of six major currencies was flat at 97.222.

In commodities, oil prices slipped as investors locked in profits ahead of European and US manufacturing data. Brent crude futures fell two cents to $61.67 a barrel shortly after 9.30am GMT.

Reuters