Asia Markets

Stocks in Asia falter amid US-China trade uncertainty

Key Points
  • The broad MSCI Asia ex-Japan index slipped 0.14 percent to 529.74, as of 3:22 p.m. HK/SIN.
  • Overnight in U.S. markets, stocks were hit by a new wave of uncertainty on the U.S.-China trade front following a series of conflicting reports.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve is set to announce its decision on interest rates later on Wednesday following its two-day monetary policy meeting.

Shares in major Asian stock markets mostly slipped on Wednesday following a series of conflicting reports on U.S.-China trade that surfaced overnight.

The broad MSCI Asia ex-Japan index slipped 0.14 percent to 529.74, as of 3:22 p.m. HK/SIN.

The mainland Chinese markets recovered partially from their earlier losses but still ended their trading day lower, with the Shenzhen component declining 0.398 percent to 9,800.60 and the Shenzhen composite shedding 0.248 percent to 1,684.57. The Shanghai composite closed mostly flat at 3,090.64.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index declined 0.33 percent in its final hour of trading. Shares of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi dropped more than 4.7 percent despite posting fourth quarter earnings that bested expectations.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi closed largely flat at 2,177.10 as chipmaker SK Hynix jumped 3.68 percent.

In Australia, the closed 0.32 percent lower at 6,165.30.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan bucked the overall trend as it closed 0.2 percent higher at 21,608.92, with shares of index heavyweight Fast Retailing advancing 0.69 percent, while the Topix index ended its trading day 0.26 percent higher at 1,614.39. Sony and Nintendo both saw their stock falling by more than 3 percent, following Google's overnight announcement of its video game streaming platform.

Overnight on Wall Street, stocks stateside began to roll over after Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the matter, that U.S. officials are worried China may be pushing back against U.S. demands in the countries' ongoing trade talks. The report also said Chinese negotiators are worried they have not received assurances that tariffs imposed on Chinese goods would be lifted once a deal is struck.

The major indexes on Wall Street briefly regained some of its footing after Dow Jones said the talks were in the final stages, noting Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will travel to Washington in the next few weeks.

"In my opinion there's still ... too much hope is priced in," Rainer Michael Preiss, executive director of Taurus Wealth Advisors, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday. "There's no easy way out of this, and that's why I think there's potentially a possibility that this outcome could actually disappoint the market."

"If there's a so-called trade deal, in my opinion it could be rather cosmetic than really substantial," he said.

Fed to announce interest rate decision

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve is set to announce its decision on interest rates later on Wednesday following its two-day monetary policy meeting.

"We agree with market pricing and US economists that the (Federal Open Market Committee) will not change monetary policy," Joseph Capurso, senior currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said in a morning note. He said that the committee is expected to decrease their forecast for the U.S. GDP, adding that the monthly economic data released so far suggests "very weak growth" for the first quarter of 2019.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.458 after sliding from the 96.5 handle yesterday.

The Japanese yen traded at 111.57 against the dollar after seeing highs around 111.2 in the previous session. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7079 after declining from highs above $0.71 yesterday.

Oil prices recovered from their earlier slump to see gains in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract rising 0.28 percent to $67.80 per barrel and U.S. crude futures advancing 0.1 percent to $59.09 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.