World stocks near record highs after US-China sign partial deal

London — World stocks remained near record highs on Thursday, after the US and China signed the first phase of an agreement to end their 18-month trade war.

MSCI’s broadest index of world stocks was up 0.1%. London, Frankfurt and Paris helped Europe start stronger, after China’s biggest stocks dipped overnight.

The deal signed by US President Donald Trump and Chinese vice-premier Liu He will roll back only some of the tariffs that the two sides have been imposing on each other. The rest remain in place for what looks to be another tricky phase of talks.

“We believe the agreement underpins a positive outlook for risk assets, especially emerging-market stocks,” said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer, UBS Global Wealth Management. “But it is also important for investors to understand the limitations of the deal. So we see the deal as representing a partial calming rather than an end to trade tensions.”

Investors are also sizing up emerging-market central bank meetings in Turkey, SA and Egypt. Turkey is expected to cut interest rates further.

The European Central Bank was due to publish its December meeting, shortly before a speech by its president, Christine Lagarde. 

Also due to speak was Andy Haldane, one of the Bank of England’s last holdouts against a rate cut. Weak UK inflation data had proved treacherous for the pound on Wednesday, so his view will be closely listened to. The pound was still weak at $1.30 and 85.4p to the euro.

Done-deal, get real

Japan’s Nikkei ended 0.07% higher and China’s Shanghai composite index fell 0.5% in its third day of losses. Hong Kong, Australia, India and Vietnam all gained.

Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 29,000 points for the first time.

“While the trade deal has provided a relief, there wasn’t any positive surprises for markets. For shares to rise further, we need more evidence of improvement in the real economy and earnings,” said Hirokazu Kabeya, chief global strategist at Daiwa Securities.

US shares are now trading above 18-times expected earnings, near their post-2008 financial crisis peak in 2018.

Disinflation everywhere

Bond yields dropped as a boost from the trade deal failed to offset low US producer price data, which highlighted persistently low inflationary pressure. The price index rose less than expected in December to cap 2019 with rise of 1.3%, the lowest since 2015.

Ten-year US treasury yields slipped to a one-week low of 1.78% compared with a high of 1.90% last Thursday, and last stood at 1.80%.

Most eurozone bond yields were little changed, with German bund yields just below two-week highs. The UK’s 10-year gilt yield was near a two-and-a-half-month low at 0.65% on the talk of rate cuts.

The Swiss franc held firm. It had reached its highest against the dollar in more than a year and its highest against the euro in almost three years after the US added Switzerland to its watch list of currency manipulators.

Washington’s decision led traders to think it will become harder for the Swiss National Bank to intervene to weaken the franc in the future. The Swiss currency last stood at 0.9626 franc to the dollar, near Wednesday’s high of 0.9631.

The Chinese yuan was just below the five-and-a-half-month high it touched earlier this week after Washington dropped its currency manipulator label for China.

Among the main commodities, oil rose from Wednesday’s six-week low, amid data showing big increases in US refined products and hopes for more Chinese purchases of US oil and gas.

Brent crude futures rose 0.7% to $64.45 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 0.73% to $58.23 per barrel. Gold was little changed at $1,555 an ounce.