Asian stocks subdued after China imposes new law on Hong Kong

Global financial markets already struggling to deal with huge economic uncertainty

Traders work during the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in New York City.

Traders work during the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in New York City.

 

Hong Kong shares extended losses and a gauge of Asian stocks was largely subdued on Monday, after China’s move to impose a new security law on Hong Kong heightened concerns about the future stability of the city and global trade prospects.

Hong Kong’s HSI index fell 0.4 per cent after sinking 5.5 per cent on Friday, when Beijing proposed the new security legislation that sparked protests across the island over the weekend.

The broader MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.3 per cent higher on thin volume, with South Korea, Australia and New Zealand all trading higher.

E-minis for S&P500 were 0.5 per cent firmer, while the dollar edged up helped by rising risk aversion.

“News flow has been pretty negative, particularly out of Beijing and Washington, but we might be seeing some inter-regional switching into those markets that are less likely to be affected by the dispute,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

“Having said that, with Singapore, the UK and the US all on holiday, trading is thinner.”

Japan’s Nikkei jumped 1.7 per cent after the Nikkei newspaper reported the country was considering a fresh stimulus package worth more than $929 billion that will consist mostly of financial aid programmes for companies hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Rising tensions between the US and China around Hong Kong, trade policy and who is responsible for the 2020 economic dislocation is threatening to end the post March-trough rally,” said Perpetual analyst Matthew Sherwood.

Global equity markets have surged around 30 per cent since hitting a low in early March, driven largely by policy stimulus.

“There is a plethora of headwinds brewing to have investors question their expectations including earnings downgrades, balance sheet develeraging, the absence of a vaccine and rising geopolitical tensions.”

Global financial markets were already struggling to deal with mammoth economic uncertainty emanating from Covid-19 lockdowns with central banks slashing interest rates and pumping in huge sums of money into banking systems.

Governments across countries have also announced heavy spending to support economic growth. But optimism around economic re-openings and stimulus is fading.

Investors were rattled on Friday when Beijing unveiled details of the security legislation that critics see as a turning point for the former British colony.

The proposal drew the ire of Hong Kong residents who defied social distancing rules and protested on streets while the United States warned China’s move could lead to US sanctions.

The US Commerce Department responded by adding 33 Chinese companies and other institutions to a blacklist for human rights violations and to address US national security concerns.

Sino-US ties have nosedived since the coronavirus outbreak, with the administrations of president Donald Trump and president Xi Jinping trading barbs over the pandemic, including accusations of cover-ups and lack of transparency.

The two superpowers have also clashed over Hong Kong, human rights, trade and US support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan.

Later on Monday, investor attention will shift to Germany, where the May IFO survey is expected to show some improvement off a record-low base.

Action in currencies was subdued.

The US dollar was a shade higher on the yen at 107.65. The euro held near a one-week trough at $1.0891. Sterling added 0.1 per cent to $1.2180 while the Australian dollar was slightly lower at $0.6532 after losses on Thursday and Friday.

Meanwhile, financial investors betting on a rebound in oil helped lift prices with US crude rising 27 cents, or 0.81 per cent, to $33.52 a barrel. Brent was 12 cents, or 0.34 per cent higher, at 35.25.

Spot gold was off 0.4 per cent at $1,727.2 an ounce. – Reuters