Asian markets meek after global turbulence

December 29, 2018

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian investors moved with caution in Friday trade after days of volatility on global financial markets failed to boost confidence.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei index ended the year with its first annual loss since 2011, trading in negative territory through Friday despite a late rally in New York.

"It's inevitable that selling emerges after sharp rises like yesterday's," said Makoto Sengoku, market analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Centre.

Over the year, Tokyo's bellwether index has lost more than 10 percent.

"The Nikkei scored annual gains for the past six years under Abenomics but it's not the case any more," Sengoku said, referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pro-spending policies.

"This is because of large swings caused by the Trump administration rather than domestic problems," he told AFP, noting President Donald Trump's trade spat with China weighed particularly on the market.

Investors moved cautiously across other Asian markets Friday, with Hong Kong closing up 0.1 percent, after moving between positive and negative territory throughout the day. Shanghai added 0.4 percent, in a modest end to its last trading day of the year.

Sydney was up one percent, Bangkok gained 0.7 percent, and Seoul added 0.6 percent.

Year of pain

Volatility reigned supreme across global markets this week, as investors wrestled with worries about slowing growth, trade wars, the Brexit process and a US government shutdown.

A choppy day's trading on Wall Street  finished solidly higher Thursday following a late session surge, but European markets suffered deep declines that dented investor hopes of finishing 2018 with gains.

Frankfurt is now nearly 20 percent down from the start of the year, London has declined more than 14 percent and Paris more than 13 percent.

And while Wall Street staged its best rally in nine years the day after Christmas, US markets opened meekly on Thursday and confidence was hit by disappointing consumer confidence data.

Where stocks head from here is "anyone's guess" as uncertainty looks set to continue into the first quarter of 2019, Ben Emons, managing director at Medley Global Advisors, told Bloomberg.

Stephen Innes, head of APAC trading at OANDA, warned: "This rollercoaster ride is unlikely to stop anytime soon as investors continue to wear emotions on their sleeve."

In the commodity markets, oil rebounded by as much as 3 percent in Asian trade Friday after rising US crude inventories pushed prices lower in the previous session -- underscoring concerns that a supply glut will continue to weigh down on the market.

In China, shares in refining giant Sinopec slipped more than 5 percent after it confirmed it had suspended two top officials at Unipec, one of its trading companies.

Gold prices reached $1,276.83 an ounce, the highest in more than six months.

Europe's top stock markets rallied at the open on Friday, with London and Paris both up 0.9 percent and Frankfurt's FAX 30 gaining 0.7 percent.