Asia Stocks Hesitant Pending U.S.-China Talks, China Trade Data
Chinese stocks were grabbing attention after the Shanghai blue chips index jumped 2 percent on Wednesday.
China trade figures and the ongoing U.S.-China tariff talks continued to weigh heavily on Asian stock markets at their open on Thursday as U.S. representatives were in Beijing to begin high-level talks.
Some optimism in market sentiment was evident, however, as President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the talks with China were "going along very well" as they try to resolve the tariff dispute ahead of a March 1 deadline.
Investors were also awaiting China trade data, which is expected to show further falls in both exports and imports.
Trump had earlier this week said he might extend the March 1 deadline without imposing the threatened tariffs, raising hope among investors even further. It also appeared increasingly likely that he would likely agree to the Congressional compromise to fund a border wall with Mexico, thereby averting a second partial government shutdown.
Chinese stocks were grabbing attention after the Shanghai blue chips index jumped 2 percent on Wednesday to levels last seen in late September. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was all but flat, having just touched peaks last seen in early October. Japan's Nikkei edged up 0.3 percent to its highest for the year so far as a weakening yen boosted export stocks. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 added 0.1 percent.
With Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Beijing for talks, investors were daring to hope for good news.
"Investors are once again cautiously optimistic that progress will be made and realistically an extension of the tariff deadline will be seen as a good result," said Nick Twidale, chief operating officer at Rakuten Securities.
"Longer term, only evidence of a solid deal going forward will dispel the investor caution and global growth fears that have been such a feature over the last year."
Data showing U.S. consumer price inflation rose at the slowest annual pace in more than 1-1/2 years supported speculation the Federal Reserve could stay patient on rates and helped lift Wall Street.
The Dow ended Wednesday up 0.36 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.30 percent and the Nasdaq 0.26 percent.
(Reuters contributed to this article.)