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The Calm Before the Storm’ as Asian Stocks Drift Higher

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TOKYO – Asian shares drifted marginally higher on Tuesday following another volatile session on Wall Street but a perfect storm of risks hovering over the global economy curbed investors’ enthusiasm.

Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng market led the gains, rising by half a%age point, while equities in Japan scraped into positive territory after suffering stiff losses the previous day.

Chinese stocks opened essentially flat while markets in Australia and South Korea were fractionally in the green.

Global markets have been rocked in recent days as traders fret about spiking oil prices, rising US long-term interest rates and an attack by US President Donald Trump on his own central bank and its policies.

After a see-saw session on Wall Street, the Dow Jones closed down 0.4% and the broader S&P 500 was down just more — at 0.6%.

Investors have now entered a “stalemate period to rethink the plethora of looming market uncertainties, ambiguities and flat out worries,” said Stephen Innes from OANDA trading.

“But this relative calm belies the building storm clouds on the horizon.”

Gains in Tokyo were sparked by a “technical rebound… after a sharp fall yesterday,” said analysts at Okasan Online Securities.

The oil price continued to climb amid ongoing geopolitical tensions surrounding Saudi Arabia, with accusations that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Trump said overnight he would send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to find out “first-hand what happened, what they know, what’s going on.”

Turning to foreign exchange markets, the pound suffered further falls in early Asian trade as the possibility of a “no deal” Brexit looms.

EU President Donald Tusk said he remained “hopeful and determined” that Britain and the bloc could clinch an amicable divorce deal.

However, he added: “We must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before.”

Meanwhile, the sudden weakening of the baht also precipitated a sharp selloff of Thai equities. As a result, the SET Index was down by 77 points (4.5%) on Thursday from its peak of 1,760 at the start of October. A modest rally on Friday lifted the index by 13.27 points to finish the week at 1,696.16.

Although investors are likely to remain nervous about the state of global markets for some time, we think the SET is starting to look more attractive after the recent selloff.

The Bank of Thailand rate increase in 2019, coupled with Thailand’s strong current account relative to its peers, means the baht should remain resilient. Currency strength mitigates the effect of foreign selling, which played an important role in the recent index decline (foreign net sales reached 10.6 billion baht on Thursday). If foreign net selling falls to 400 million or 500 million baht per day, we expect local funds should be able to drive the SET Index back up.

Agence France-Presse

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