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Asia: Markets swing after bruising week with trade centre stage

[HONG KONG] Asian markets fluctuated on Friday after another painful week as fears of an all-out trade war between China and the United States keep investors on edge.

While Apple provided a boost for Wall Street after hitting the US$1 trillion market capitalisation mark, the prospect of the world's top two economies exchanging painful tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods is stunting optimism.

Shares, which have been on the slide for several weeks owing to the increasingly heated trade row, took another hit this week when the White House said it was considering more than doubling threatened tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports.

Beijing responded by saying it would not give into "blackmail".

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"There are genuine concerns about this trade war underlying markets, which makes any genuine retaliation from China, rather than the current rhetorical approach, an issue for markets," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

However, while he warned "the risks of escalation remain high", he added that "the market still thinks (the latest US threat) is just a negotiating tactic".

Hong Kong lost 0.1 per cent and Shanghai 0.2 per cent, with both having swung in and out of positive territory through the morning, while traders on the mainland have largely brushed off promises of government support to the struggling economy.

The yuan extended losses on trade war worries and concerns about growth, but Ian Hui, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, said in a note: "Chinese officials will remain wary of letting the yuan weaken too much, as that may risk issues for capital flight and financial stability."

Tokyo ended the early session up 0.1 per cent, while Sydney edged up 0.1 per cent and Singapore slipped 0.1 per cent.

Seoul and Wellington each added 0.4 per cent, with Taipei and Manila also slightly higher.

Attention now shifts to the release later Friday of US jobs data, which will provide the latest snapshot of the US economy and give an idea about the Federal Reserve's plans for future interest rate hikes.

The pound struggled to break back against the dollar after Thursday's drop that came as the Bank of England's hike in interest rates to a nine-year high was offset by its tepid outlook for further increases in the near term owing to Brexit uncertainty.

AFP