Picture: 123RF/SOLAR SEVEN
Picture: 123RF/SOLAR SEVEN

London — World shares slipped on Friday as a leading index strained for a record high, with nerves gnawing away from Asia to Europe over how, or when, the US and China can agree a truce in their damaging trade war.

The MSCI all country world index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, fell 0.2% to 548.48 points, short of a record 550.63 scaled in January 2018 before the tensions over trade between Washington and Beijing broke out.

European shares clawed back ground after opening lower. The broad Euro Stoxx 600 was flat after opening 0.5% lower, still near a four-year high.

Asia had earlier endured a sombre session, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan falling 1.1%. There, Hong Kong led the dip, losing 2.1%. South Korean shares and Japan’s Nikkei also fell.

China’s blue-chips gave up 1.3% a day before the country reports manufacturing activity, which analysts expect to have shrunk for seventh straight month in November.

The sell-off came as investors grew uncertain over how US markets will perceive the latest clash between Washington and Beijing over Hong Kong. Wall Street will start a half-day session on Friday following Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, with futures gauges suggesting losses of about 0.3%.

China warned the US on Thursday that it would take “firm counter-measures” in response to US legislation backing anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

“The more recent news on the trade front is how the Hong Kong situation might play into the US-China trade negotiations,” said Hugh Gimber, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “The market is now waiting on the next clear steer on when investors might be able to expect a deal to be reached.”

Markets had risen through October and, in November, had begun to price in expectations of the two sides reaching an initial deal by the year end, Gimber said, adding that this situation has started to look less likely.

Still, investors are on the whole betting that despite wild cards, such as the US legislation, it ultimately remains in the interest of both Washington and Beijing to move forward with talks to get a trade deal.

The MSCI world index has climbed 2.5% in November, its third straight month of gains, helped in part by hopes the world’s two biggest economies are moving towards a resolution to a trade conflict that has upset financial markets and disrupted supply chains.

For the year, the index is up about 20%, also helped by lowering interest rates and injections of government stimulus around the world.

Amid a quiet day in holiday-thinned trading, investors had their eye on eurozone flash inflation figures, due at 10am GMT. In early trade, eurozone 10-year bond yields were little changed. Germany’s benchmark bund yield was at -0.36%, off one-month lows hit during the previous session.

Quiet on the dollar front

With few major news catalysts in the China-US trade talks, major currencies stayed in tight trading ranges.

Against a basket of six major currencies, the dollar traded flat at 98.322, and edged up slightly against the yen. In early London trading, the dollar reached ¥109.50, not far off a six-month peak of ¥109.61 set on Wednesday.

“China has already threatened retaliation measures in reaction to the bill being passed, while it remains unclear for now what shape these will take,” said Thu Lan Nguyen, a strategist at Commerzbank. “That means there is still the risk of a setback in the short term.”

The euro stood at $1.1009, and has stood stuck in a tight range for the past week.

As trading in major currencies slumbers, their implied volatilities, key gauges of expected swings measured by their option prices, plumbed to record lows this week.

Elsewhere, bitcoin gained 0.4%, with the original crypto-currency on course for its worst month in a year. Bitcoin has been heavily sold off as hopes fade that an embrace of blockchain technology by China’s government would see digital money enter the mainstream.

Oil prices were little changed, with investors awaiting a meeting of Opec and its allies next week that may result in the extension of an output cut agreement to support the market. Brent crude futures were down 13 c, or 0.2%, at $63.74 a barrel.

Reuters