EMERGING MARKETS-Emerging markets gain as trade tensions ease, S.Africa shines


LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - Emerging stocks and currencies started the week with healthy gains on signs of easing trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

South African markets chalked up some of the biggest gains after the country averted a cut to its credit rating.

Alarm over a possible trade war has rattled markets in recent weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump slapped hefty tariffs on steel and aluminium imports and announced plans for tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese goods on Thursday.

However, investors were taking heart from reports that Washington and Beijing were working behind the scenes, with China signalling it was ready to talk. Meanwhile South Korea secured an exemption from the steel tariffs, helping to lift the mood across Asia.

MSCI's emerging market's index rose 0.5 percent following steep falls in the previous trading session, with the benchmark suffering a more than 3 percent fall last week.

Many Asian bourses racked up solid gains, with heavyweight South Korea rising nearly 1 percent and Hong Kong up 0.5 percent, while equities in much of emerging Europe and Turkey also rose.

"The market is perceiving (reports on Washington and U.S. talking) as a step in the right direction," said Vasileios Gkionakis, co-head of strategy research at UniCredit.

"This is our central scenario, meaning that in the end, if we are going to see any retaliation, it will be more symbolic rather than meaningful. But sentiment remains fragile and we are still subject to plenty of headline risk."

Bourses in mainland China remained under pressure.

With the dollar taking another step lower, emerging currencies also booked gains, with Russia's rouble, Turkey's lira and Mexico's peso all strengthening around half a percent.

South Africa's rand gained 1 percent against the dollar to trade at its strongest level in a month after Moody's on Friday affirmed its investment-grade credit rating and revised its credit outlook to stable from negative.

The agency said the recovery of institutions in Africa's most industrialised economy would - if sustained - kick-start the economy as well as providing a stabilisation of fiscal strength. A downgrade would have seen South Africa cut from key bond indexes and could have triggered billions of dollars in outflows.

Domestic bond markets also rose, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year sovereign issue at 7.89 percent - a level it last traded at three years ago. Costs of insuring exposure to the country's external credit also fell.

"As far as the South Africa-specific idiosyncratic factors are concerned, those are positive for the rand," said UniCredit's Gkionakis, predicting the rand could outperform its peers if the backdrop remained benign.

The local market's focus this week will be on the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) interest rate decision on Wednesday.

For GRAPHIC on emerging market FX performance 2018, see http://tmsnrt.rs/2e7eoml For GRAPHIC on MSCI emerging index performance 2018, see http://tmsnrt.rs/2dZbdP5

For TOP NEWS across emerging markets

For CENTRAL EUROPE market report, see

For TURKISH market report, see

For RUSSIAN market report, see) Emerging Markets Prices from Reuters

Equities Latest Net Chg % Chg % Chg

on year

Morgan Stanley

Emrg Mkt Indx 1178.87 +6.77 +0.58 +1.76 Czech Rep 1112.46 +4.74 +0.43 +3.18 Poland 2244.71 -12.51 -0.55 -8.80 Hungary 37131.21 +190.84 +0.52 -5.70 Romania 8663.34 +2.35 +0.03 +11.73 Greece 789.86 +4.14 +0.53 -1.56 Russia 1256.49 -4.95 -0.39 +8.84 South Africa 49623.34 -131.86 -0.27 -5.54 Turkey 17424.45 +821.63 +0.70 +1.81 China 3133.92 -18.84 -0.60 -5.24 India 32921.08 +324.54 +1.00 -3.33 Currencies Latest Prev Local Local close currency currency

% change % change

in 2018

Czech Rep 25.42 25.43 +0.05 +0.42

Poland 4.23 4.22 -0.15 -1.31

Hungary 312.66 312.66 +0.00 -0.68

Romania 4.66 4.66 +0.09 +0.46

Serbia 118.53 118.25 -0.24 -0.11

Russia 56.93 57.22 +0.52 +1.28

Kazakhstan 319.41 320.70 +0.40 +4.19

Ukraine 26.30 26.25 -0.19 +7.02

South Africa 11.64 11.74 +0.85 +6.20

Kenya 100.85 100.85 -0.00 +2.23

Israel 3.49 3.48 -0.12 -0.27

Turkey 3.97 3.98 +0.29 -4.56

China 6.28 6.31 +0.54 +3.65

India 64.86 64.98 +0.19 -1.59

Brazil 3.31 3.31 -0.04 -0.04

Mexico 18.44 18.51 +0.35 +6.52

Debt Index Strip Spd Chg %Rtn Index

Sov'gn Debt EMBIG 324 -3 .05 7 87.20 1

(Reporting by Karin Strohecker, additional reporting and graphic by Claire Milhench; editing by John Stonestreet)