Easing trade tensions fuel pre-Christmas shares rally

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Donald Trump promises that a US-China trade pact will be signed very shortly

A pre-Christmas rally fuelled by hopes of waning trade tensions have pushed share prices to a fresh high and on course for their biggest rise in a decade.

Donald Trump’s promise that a US-China trade pact would be signed “very shortly” sent the MSCI gauge of stock markets around the world to new record levels.

The boost to share prices was led by Wall Street where both the S&P 500 – a measure of the performance of the US’s leading companies – and the technology-rich Nasdaq both traded at unprecedented levels.

MSCI’s all-country world index has risen nearly 3% this month amid optimism that 2020 will see a de-escalation of the protectionist stand-off between the world’s two biggest economies and that Britain would avoid a chaotic exit from the European Union. The index is up 23% in 2019, set for its best year since 2009.

Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York, said sentiment in stock markets was driven by developments in the trade war.

“It’s a rally being based upon momentum buying now. Stocks are being marked up, and it will continue right up until year end,” he said.

The scene had been set for an upbeat day of trading after China announced it was to cut tariffs on more than 850 goods from 1 January in order to boost its flagging economy.

In a move designed to draw a contrast with Donald Trump’s confrontational approach, Beijing said there would be a temporary cut in duties on products ranging from frozen pork to semiconductors.

An outbreak of swine flu prompted the reduction in tariffs on imported pork but China’s willingness to cut the cost of other goods coming into the country reflected concern at the slowest growth rate in 30 years.

China’s finance ministry said in a statement that the changes were made to “increase imports of products facing a relative domestic shortage, or foreign speciality goods for everyday consumption”.

Calculations by Bloomberg showed that the tariff cuts will affect almost $400bn (£309bn) of foreign goods sold to China annually, out of a total import bill of $2tn. Last year Beijing announced a temporary cut in duties on 706 products.

The move comes amid expectations that Beijing and Washington are about to sign a phase one trade agreement under which the US will cut tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for greater market access for American farm products.

Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said Beijing’s decision to lower import tariffs was a positive step towards a de-escalation of global trade tensions.

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“It also represents a positive signal ahead of the expected conclusion of a first-phase trade deal between the US and China.

“By slashing tariffs, China seeks to boost slowing economic growth through a reduction in business and consumers’ costs. It also seeks to boost pork imports as African swine fever has decimated local production. Finally, China also reaffirms its free-trade stance, in sharp contrast with US protectionist rhetoric.”

The list of products on which duties will be cut reflects the way in which China’s rapid growth has led to a range of problems from pollution to obesity. Tariffs for some asthma and diabetes medications will be set at zero, the ministry said, noting that the increased purchases of foreign goods would be in line with the growing needs of the Chinese people.

China will also lower temporary import tariffs for ferroniobium – used as an additive to high-strength low-alloy steel and stainless steel for oil and gas pipelines, cars and trucks – from 1% to zero in 2020 to support its hi-tech development.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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