Asian stocks track Brexit deal cheer but China caution prevails

Andrew Galbraith, Reuters

Posted at Oct 18 2019 09:28 AM

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, Oct. 17, 2019. Tom Nicholson, Reuters

SHANGHAI -- Asian stocks edged higher on Friday, tracking the global lift in sentiment after the UK and the European Union struck a long-awaited Brexit deal, but concern about the Chinese economy is likely to cap gains with data expected to show weaker growth.

Sterling, which had enjoyed its biggest rising streak since October 1985 and hit a five-month high on the back of the Brexit deal, gave up ground on Friday morning amid doubts that the agreement would receive parliamentary approval. The pound eased 0.18 percent to buy $1.2865.

"Whatever was agreed last night with the EU still has to go through the British parliament ... The uncertainty surrounding that still hasn't changed one iota," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut in Perth, Australia.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up about 0.1 percent in early trade, echoing Wall Street's small gains. Australian shares were off 0.6 percent, while Japan's Nikkei added 0.5 percent.

Equity markets had enjoyed a bounce from the initial Brexit news, with the S&P 500 briefly topping 3,000 points for the first time in more than three weeks.

Investors were also encouraged by upbeat earnings from Netflix and Morgan Stanley, but poor results from International Business Machines Corp and weak US economic data weighed.

Housing starts, industrial production and mid-Atlantic factory output all fell short of economist expectations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.09 percent to 27,025.88, the S&P 500 finished up 0.28 percent at 2,997.97 and the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.4 percent to 8,156.85.

On Friday morning, S&P 500 e-mini stock futures, were down a hair at 2,997.

China is also in focus in Asia with the world's second-largest economy expected to post its weakest economic growth in at least 27-1/2 years when it releases gross domestic product data at 0200 GMT. Weak numbers could raise pressure on Beijing to introduce new stimulus measures to counter the effects of a long-running trade war with the United States.

McGlew said expectations for a further slowdown in China had been largely priced in by the market already.

"Unless it's a diabolically low number, I don't really think it's going to have too much of an impact on prices today. But we can't price that uncertainty," he said, referring to further developments in the trade spat between Washington and Beijing.

On Thursday, China said that it hoped to reach a phased agreement in its trade dispute with the US as soon as possible.

Reflecting the cautious mood, the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes fell slightly to 1.7483 percent compared with a US close of 1.755 percent on Thursday.

In the currency market, the dollar was flat against the yen at 108.65, while the euro was up 0.04 percent on the day at $1.1126.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of 6 major rivals, was barely lower at 97.596.

Oil was mixed ahead of the China data, with US crude up 0.1 percent to $53.99 a barrel, but Brent crude easing by 0.13 percent to 59.83 percent.

Spot gold was flat, trading at $1,491.73 per ounce.