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Asia: Markets drop as traders await next moves in China-US talks

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets fell on Friday as investors wound down for the end of the month, while awaiting news of progress on China-US trade talks but with optimism tainted by the row over Hong Kong.

Donald Trump's decision to sign a bill in support of pro-democracy protesters in the city and back their rights sparked warnings of retaliation from Beijing and fuelled fears for negotiations on a mini trade deal that are in their final straight.

However, China has not detailed what its response to the Hong Kong law will be and observers say it is unlikely to do anything to derail a tariffs agreement owing to its weakening economy.

"China's threats to retaliate over the US Hong Kong law will probably remain just that; threats," said Jeffrey Halley at Oanda.

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Market voices on:

"China has its own issues, especially around corporate debt and regional bank credit quality. It can ill-afford to waste any progress so far. Pragmatism should overcome anger."

Still, the threat of serious measures continues to weigh on sentiment and with US markets closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, there were few catalysts to buy for Asian traders.

In early trade, Hong Kong was the biggest loser, dropping 1.6 per cent, while Shanghai fell 0.4 per cent and Tokyo shed 0.1 per cent by the break.

Singapore lost 0.4 per cent, and Seoul dropped one percent after the South Korean central bank decided against cutting interest rates despite the economy struggling.

Taipei, Manila and Jakarta also retreated. However, Sydney and Wellington posted gains.

"Markets are on a sort of 'wait and hold' in terms of that phase-one trade deal," David Riley of BlueBay Asset Management told Bloomberg TV.

"If there is a skinny deal, that will allow markets and risk assets to grind higher even if there is no real prospect of a phase two or subsequent detailed negotiation occurring this side of US Presidential elections."

On currency markets, the pound held gains on expectations the ruling Conservatives will win next month's general election, allowing it to push through Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit agreement and avoid a no-deal divorce from the European Union.

The Chilean central bank injected US$20 billion into the economy in a bid to support the ailing peso, which hit another record low Thursday. The South American country has been hammered by the worst social unrest in three decades, as well as a fall in the price of copper, of which Chile is the world's leading producer.

AFP