Picture: 123RF/BLUE BAY
Picture: 123RF/BLUE BAY

London — European shares fell on Wednesday as the deadline approaches for new US tariffs on Chinese goods, while two major central banks held policy meetings.

US President Donald Trump has only days to decide whether to impose tariffs on nearly $160bn in Chinese goods, a move that would exacerbate the long-running trade war. The White House’s top economic and trade advisers are expected to meet with Trump in coming days over the decision, a source told Reuters, though a final decision has not been made.

Amid the uncertainty over trade — the overriding focus for investors through the year — the Euro Stoxx 600 fell 0.3%.

The British pound, a high-flyer of late, dropped from a seven-month peak after an opinion poll projected a narrower-than-expected victory for the Conservative party in the British election on Thursday.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, was flat. Wall Street futures suggested little change in US stocks.

Investors said phase one of a trade deal was likely, as it would benefit both Washington and Beijing. “We still believe that the phase-one deal is something that is convenient for both the presidents on the political and economic side,” Alessia Berardi, senior economist at Amundi said. “If the tariffs are implemented it will be a disaster in the short term.”

In the Middle East, Saudi Aramco shares opened 10% above their initial public offering (IPO) price in their first day of trading after their record IPO. That gave the state-controlled oil company a market value of about $1.88-trillion, making it the world’s most valuable listed company.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan had earlier risen 0.5%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 led gains with 0.7% rises.

Investors also focused on meetings by major central banks. At its policy meeting and outlook for the economy, due at 7pm GMT, the US Federal Reserve is widely expected to hold rates steady, with investors watching for changes to its view on the economy and its 2% growth forecast for next year.

A surprise to the upside when US inflation data is released at 1.30pm GMT would further reduce chances for rate cuts next year.

The European Central Bank (ECB) will hold its first meeting and news conference with Christine Lagarde as president on Thursday. “Everything is positioned for the two major central banks to stay accommodative,” Berardi said.

Sterling slips

The pound shed 0.2% to $1.3124 after a YouGov poll showed the ruling Conservatives heading towards a slimmer majority than was forecast a fortnight ago. YouGov’s research director said the results showed that a hung parliament is possible.

Sterling fell as much as 1% from its high on Tuesday, when investors were more confident of a Conservative victory that they expect will end uncertainty over Brexit.

In other currencies, the dollar recovered overnight losses against the euro, which had gained when German economic sentiment rose after an unexpected rebound in October exports. The dollar rose 0.2% against a basket of six major currencies to 97.512.

In commodities, Brent futures fell by 37c, or 0.6%, to $63.97 a barrel by 8.26am GMT, after industry data showed an unexpected build-up in crude inventories in the US.


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