Asia Markets Mixed as Dealers Await Start of Key Trade Talks

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Asian markets were mixed Thursday with investors moving cautiously as they sifted through conflicting reports about the outlook for upcoming China-US trade talks.

Global investors have been broadly upbeat in recent weeks that the meeting in Washington between top-level representatives would see at least some progress.

But with the much-anticipated gathering due to start within hours, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported pre-meeting discussions had not made any progress on key areas such as forced technology transfers, and that the meet would be cut in half to just one day.

That came after Wall Street's three main indexes ended with healthy gains on reports that a pared-down deal was still possible, with Beijing boosting agricultural purchases and Washington delaying the imposition of new tariffs next week.

Tensions were already showing this week after the US unveiled restrictions on 28 Chinese entities over human rights violations in Xinjiang and imposed visa restrictions on some officials, while a report said the White House was considering curtailing American investment in the country.

For its part, sources were reported to have said China had narrowed the issues it was willing to discuss as it felt in a stronger position owing to Donald Trump facing an impeachment inquiry at home and a weakening economy.

The SCMP report "reverses the trade optimism that was dominating overnight flow as investors were hoping that at minimum, some type of a deal could be forged", said Stephen Innes, Asia-Pacific market strategist at AxiTrader.

"So instead of debating how encompassing the deal might be, investors are now back to plucking petals from a flower guessing if there will be a deal at all."

- 'Petals from a flower' -

On regional markets, Hong Kong edged up 0.1 percent while Tokyo finished 0.5 percent higher and Shanghai put on 0.8 percent. Manila was also higher.

But Seoul shed 0.8 percent, Singapore eased 0.4 percent, Mumbai dropped 0.8 percent and Bangkok fell 0.5 percent. Sydney and Jakarta were flat. 

London opened 0.2 percent higher, Paris added 0.3 percent and Frankfurt was flat.

In foreign exchange markets, the dollar was lower against most other currencies after minutes from the Federal Reserve's September policy meeting showed it was growing concerned about the impact of Trump's trade war.

The central bank is expected to cut interest rates for a third time when the board meets again later this month.

The minutes "revealed greater concerns over downside risk from slowing global growth and trade tensions with subdued inflation also seen as a reason to cut", said Rodrigo Catril at National Australia Bank.

But he pointed out that "a few officials saw the need to push back against market Fed rate cut expectations".

Oil prices extended Wednesday's losses following data showing a bigger-than-forecast pick-up in US inventories that reinforced worries about the impact on demand from a global slowdown and trade frictions.

The data reversed a rally of more than one percent in the commodity that came after Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Syria. There was little major impact from the unrest in Ecuador that has hit the country's production.

- Key figures around 0810 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 21,551.98 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.1 percent at 25,707.93 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.8 percent at 2,947.71 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,135.25

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2241 from $1.2205 at 2050 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 89.99 pence from 89.89 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1017 from $1.0972

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 107.40 yen from 107.49 yen

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 26 cents at $52.33 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 24 cents at $58.08 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.7 percent at 26,346.01 (close)