Asian shares drop as China consulate closure fans Sino-U.S. tensions

SHANGHAI/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian shares slipped on Thursday as investors’ worries over rising tensions between Washington and Beijing overcame hopes for more stimulus, after the United Sates ordered the closure of China’s consulate in Houston amid accusations of spying.

China said the order was an “unprecedented escalation” by Washington, and a source said Beijing was considering shutting the U.S. consulate in Wuhan in retaliation.

U.S. President Donald Trump said that other consulate closures were “always possible”.

After ticking higher earlier in the morning session, MSCI’s broadest index of Asian shares ex-Japan was last down 0.3%, weighed down by slumping Chinese stocks. The Shanghai benchmark dropped 1.67% following four days of gains.

Australian shares were flat and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index reversed earlier gains to lose 0.08%.

Nikkei futures shed 0.13% to 22,755, with Japanese markets closed for a holiday.

S&P mini-futures slipped 0.08%.

Further escalation of Sino-U.S. tensions was increasingly likely, said Kay Van-Petersen, global macro strategist at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore.

“The biggest near-term risk to me … is Trump going further and breaking on the Phase One deal,” he said.

But he said unprecedented stimulus measures to boost pandemic-battered economies would continue to provide structural support for riskier assets.

“The forces of liquidity are just unparalleled … we’re seeing what happened post the GFC, but we’re seeing it on steroids,” he said.

“It’s rare that you see both monetary and fiscal policy turned on, and then when they are they only turn on for a little bit.”

Hopes for another round of U.S. stimulus and strong corporate earnings boosted Wall Street overnight even as Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on how much to spend on the next round of coronavirus relief.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.62%, the S&P 500 gained 0.57% and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.24%.

In commodity markets, spot gold fell 0.3% to $1,865.84 per ounce, but remained near a nine-year peak on Thursday, with prices up nearly 23% on the year. Investors have flocked to the safe-haven metal as they seek shelter from a potential reversal in U.S. equities.

Gold has been helped by a weak dollar, which remained in the doldrums near more than four-month lows on Thursday, easing 0.05% to 94.965. The greenback was flat against the yen at 107.14 and against the euro at $1.1568.

Oil was also little-changed, with U.S. crude flat at $41.90 a barrel and global benchmark Brent crude up one cent to $44.30 per barrel.

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