Picture: 123RF/WELCOMIA
Picture: 123RF/WELCOMIA

London — World stocks hit their highest in almost two years on Tuesday, keeping record highs in sight, following fresh signs that the US and China are working to end a bitter trade war that has dealt a blow to the global economy.

China’s vice-premier Liu He, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin held a phone call on issues related to a phase one trade agreement on Tuesday, China’s commerce ministry said.

This, alongside a strong Hong Kong debut for Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in the world’s largest share sale of this year, boosted stock markets in Asia.

Alibaba shares opened almost 7% higher in Hong Kong than their issue price and at a small premium to pricing in New York. The listing has been seen as a vote of confidence in Hong Kong after months of anti-government protests that have rocked the former British colony.

European shares were marginally lower in early trade although the pan-European Stoxx 600 remained within striking distance of four-year highs.

MSCI’s 49-country main world share index edged up 0.1%, having touched its highest level in almost two years. It is less than 1% off record highs hit in early 2018. Trade in US stock futures were a tad firmer.

A flurry of major acquisition activity has also supported world shares, with France’s LVMH offering to buy US jeweller Tiffany & Co and Charles Schwab agreeing to purchase US discount brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding.

Still, optimism over US-China trade talks remained the key driver following positive headlines from the world’s two biggest economies on this front in recent days.

“While it is easy to be sceptical about these sorts of reports, given we’ve heard them so many times before, particularly the ones about a rollback of tariffs, they do tend to create a momentum on their own,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets. “Even when they are denied, and no matter how cynical you are, it has tended to be a fool’s errand in standing in the way of any move higher.”

The US has imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in a 16-month long dispute over trade practices the US government says are unfair. China has responded with its own tariffs on US goods.

The next important date to watch is December 15, when Washington is scheduled to impose even more tariffs on Chinese goods.

The yen fell to a two-week low of ¥109.205 to the dollar, while the Swiss franc traded near a six-week low against the dollar as the optimistic tone sapped demand for safe-haven currencies. In the offshore market, the yuan briefly rose to a one-week high of 7.0188 against the dollar.

Yields on safe-haven government bonds in the eurozone nudged higher, although the limited rise in borrowing costs suggested caution from bond investors.

“What we have seen, especially if I look at the equity side, is that the optimism [on US-China trade talks] is quite high so we rather have the potential for a risk-off move,” said Sebastian Fellechner, a rates strategist at DZ Bank in Frankfurt.

Elsewhere, bitcoin, the world’s biggest crypto-currency, was 1.6% firmer at $7,236.71, recovering from a six-month low on Monday after the People’s Bank of China launched a fresh crackdown on crypto-currencies.

US crude was flat at $58 a barrel. Brent crude was also little changed on the day at $63.66 per barrel.

Reuters