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Asia: Markets down after trade-fuelled surge, sterling gains

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets fell on Tuesday as investors struggled to maintain momentum from the previous day's trade talks-fuelled surge, while the pound extended gains following reports of a possible Brexit delay.

Donald Trump's decision to waive this week's deadline for China-US negotiations and his upbeat tone on their progress lit a fire under regional equities Monday on hopes the long-running dispute could be nearing its end.

However, while dealers are hopeful the two sides will reach a deal, there is some scepticism about how much they can resolve, while some observers warned that failure to meet market expectations could lead to a sharp drop in global equities following a strong start to the year.

"The emerging shape and tone of the negotiations do not portend a resolution of many pending issues per se," said Aninda Mitra, an analyst at BNY Mellon Investment Management.

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"Notwithstanding the relief in Chinese markets and an expected improvement in global risk sentiment, the bilateral trade relationship will remain complicated."

Shanghai eased 0.5 per cent on Tuesday after the previous day's 5.6-per cent surge, while Hong Kong slipped 0.6 per cent and Tokyo ended the morning down 0.2 per cent.

Sydney sank more than one per cent and Singapore was 0.6 per cent off, with Seoul, Taipei and Wellington each 0.1 per cent lower. Manila and Jakarta were flat.

CRUDE DROPS FURTHERĀ 

On currency markets, the sterling rose further after a report that Prime Minister Theresa May is considering putting off the March 29 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union if she is unable to push her own deal through parliament, in a bid to avert a painful no-deal divorce.

"Following the report, a possibility emerged that the UK parliament and the government will move towards extending the deadline, and that sent the pound to the highest level since January against the dollar, and the highest against the yen this year," Mizuho Securities said in a commentary.

Adding upside to the currency was news that the opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn announced it would support a second referendum on leaving the bloc if its own plan for Brexit is not approved.

Oil saw further losses in Asia, having tanked more than three per cent after Mr Trump again called on Opec to help slash "high" prices.

The commodity has been on a roll in recent weeks on hopes for the trade talks, output cuts by Opec and other major producers including Russia, and US sanctions on Venezuelan exports.

However, the president's tweet - the latest hitting out at the oil majors - sparked a sell-off in the market, though analysts indicated prices could bounce back.

"We might see a less aggressive stance on supply cuts from the Saudis - this might stop them from cutting deeper," said Giovanni Staunovo, an analyst at UBS Group AG in Zurich.

"But I still think Saudi Arabia has the incentive to see higher oil prices, and deliver the cuts agreed in December" with other Opec members.

AFP