Asian shares near two-month lows ahead of looming U.S. tariff hike

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares inched up from two-month lows on Friday just hours ahead of the Trump administration’s plan to raise tariffs on Chinese imports as investors looked to whether negotiators from the two countries can clinch a deal to avert the hike.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had received a “beautiful letter” from Chinese President Xi Jinping, stoking hopes that Washington may suspend its plan to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent. That provided some support for stocks in early Asian trade though sentiment remains cautious.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked up 0.2 percent while Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.4 percent. E-mini futures for U.S. S&P500 rose 0.4 percent in early Asian trade.

Yet with less than four hours left before the announced start of new rates at 12:01 a.m. (0401) GMT on Friday, right in the middle of two days of meetings with a Chinese delegation, some see the risk of a fresh escalation in the trade war.

“I’d say there’s 50 percent chance the tariffs will be raised as announced, which should lead to fresh selling in stocks later today,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment in Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

China’s Vice Premier Liu He said he hopes to engage in a rational and candid exchange with the U.S. after arriving in Washington for a new round of trade talks, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

Trump also said on Thursday he was taking steps to authorize new tariffs on $325 billion in Chinese imports.

Concerns about renewed escalation in the trade tensions supported safe-haven assets.

The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield stood at 2.453 percent near its lowest levels since late March.

In the currency market, the yen is favored, with the dollar changing hands at 109.71 yen, having hit a three-month low of 109.47 on Thursday.

The euro firmed to $1.1220 while the Chinese yuan perked at 6.838 per dollar having hit a four-month low of 6.8638 to the dollar the previous day.

MSCI’s emerging market currency index also tumbled to a four-month low.

Oil prices held firm after Trump’s comments on Xi’s letter raised hopes for a deal for now.

Brent rose 0.7 percent to $70.86 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 0.9 percent to $62.24 per barrel.

(Graphic: Asian stock markets – tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4)

Editing by Sam HolmesOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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