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Business: Asian shares meander following gains on upbeat trade talk

(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)   —   Shares were mixed in Asia on Wednesday, trading in a narrow range after overnight gains following conciliatory comments on trade by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi’s pledge to cut tariffs on imported cars and improve intellectual property protection was seen as a step toward easing trade tensions.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index lost 0.5 percent to 21,687.10 and the Kospi in South Korea declined 0.3 percent to 2,444.22. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.6 percent to 30,898.14 and the Shanghai Composite index surged 0.6 percent to 3,208.08. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 dipped 0.5 percent to 5,328.70. Shares rose in Taiwan and in most Southeast Asian markets.

WALL STREET: Facebook, Twitter and Snap rallied as senators questioned Mark Zuckerberg about the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal that has engulfed the company over the last four weeks. Technology companies have stumbled as investors wondered if the government will implement tighter regulations on technology companies, and those worries eased Tuesday. Zuckerberg will testify before the House of Representatives later Wednesday. The S&P 500 index surged 1.7 percent to 2,656.87. The Dow gained 1.8 percent to 24,408. The Nasdaq composite added 2.1 percent to 7,094.30 and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks advanced 1.9 percent, to 1,543.43.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “The market’s increasing expectation is that the two sides will sit down now,” said Paul Christopher, head of global market strategy for Wells Fargo Investment Institute, although stocks could bounce around as those negotiations proceed. “There’s still a lot at stake because you have a global supply chain that could be interrupted because of tariffs.”

CHINA FACTOR: General Motors, which has major manufacturing operations in China, rose 3.3 percent after Chinese President Xi Jinping promised changes in some areas that the U.S. has identified as priorities. He didn’t address other thorny topics including requirements for foreign companies to give technology to potential local competitors. So far the U.S. has proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of products made in China, and China has said it could put tariffs on an equivalent amount of goods imported from the U.S. Also, President Donald Trump has directed his trade representative to look into targeting another $100 billion in Chinese goods.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude shed 25 cents to $65.26 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 3.3 percent to $65.51 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 30 cents to $70.74 per barrel. It added 3.5 percent to $71.04 a barrel in London. Oil prices have yoyo’d recently as investors wonder if the trade dispute will hamper global economic growth.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 107.01 yen from 107.20. The euro rose to $1.2371 from $1.2357.

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– Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Wednesday, April 11:

1. Trump Weighs Military Strike On Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action to punish Syria’s President Bashar Assad for a suspected poison gas attack over the weekend on a rebel-held town that long had held out against government forces.

Trump on Tuesday canceled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. On Monday, he had warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the Syria attack was established.

Pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol on Tuesday alerted airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria in next 72 hours.

The notice said that air-to-ground and cruise missiles could be used within that period, a move which could provoke a response from Russia.

2. U.S. Stock Futures Point To Lower Open

U.S. stock futures pointed to a lower open, as the possibility of an American military strike on Syria gave investors pause.

The blue-chip Dow futures fell around 80 points, or about 0.3%, the S&P 500 futures dipped 12 points, or nearly 0.5%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures declined 27 points, or roughly 0.4%.

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) shares will remain in focus as chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will spend a second day facing questions from lawmakers on Congress regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

U.S. stocks climbed on Tuesday, with the three major averages all scoring gains of nearly 2%, after China presented a less-aggressive stance in trade tensions with the U.S., easing fears over a full-blown trade war.

Elsewhere, in Europe, the continent’s major bourses fell slightly in a broad-based pullback, although solid results from British retailer Tesco (LON:TSCO) and strength among telecoms stocks helped limit losses.

Earlier, in Asia, most markets in the region closed modestly higher, tracking gains overnight in the U.S. and Europe.

3. All Eyes on U.S. Inflation Data

The Commerce Department will publish March inflation figures at 8:30AM ET (1230GMT), with traders watching to see if the data will run hotter-than-expected, just as producer prices did the day before.

Market analysts expect consumer prices to rise 2.4% on a year-over-year basis, up from 2.2% in February.

Core inflation, which excludes food and fuel, is projected to climb 2.1%, a tad faster than the 1.8%-gain recorded in the preceding month.

Core prices are viewed by the Federal Reserve as a better gauge of longer-term inflationary pressure because they exclude the volatile food and energy categories.

A jump in inflation could be a sign that the Fed would have to raise interest rates more rapidly if it begins to run above its 2% target.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was a shade lower at 89.23, its lowest level since March 28.

In the bond market, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield was little changed at 2.797%.

4. Fed Releases FOMC Meeting Minutes

Later in the afternoon, the Federal Reserve will release minutes of its most recent policy meeting at 2:00PM ET (1800GMT), which may provide further hints on the pace of future rate hikes this year.

The U.S. central bank raised interest rates as widely expected following its meeting on March 21 and stuck to its projection for two more rate hikes this year.

Fed Chief Jerome Powell said last week the Fed will likely need to keep raising interest rates this year to keep inflation under control. He added that it was too soon to know if recent trade issues would take a toll on the U.S. economy.

Those comments signaled that borrowing costs will continue to climb this year despite the recent market volatility caused by the trade dispute.

Traders are currently pricing in around a 90% chance of a rate hike in June, according to Investing.com’s Fed Rate Monitor Tool. Odds of a third rate hike by December was seen at about 75%.

5. EIA Weekly Supply Report In Focus

Oil traders looked ahead to fresh weekly data on U.S. commercial crude inventories to gauge the strength of demand in the world’s largest oil consumer and how fast output levels will continue to rise.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration will release its official weekly oil supplies report at 10:30AM ET (1430GMT), amid expectations for a decline of around 0.2 million barrels.

The American Petroleum Institute said late Tuesday that U.S. oil inventories rose by 1.8 million barrels in the week ended April 6. There are often sharp divergences between the API estimates and the official figures from EIA.

Oil prices held steady, with New York-traded WTI crude futures inching up 10 cents to $65.51 per barrel, while Brent futures dipped 2 cents to $71.02.

Both benchmarks enjoyed gains of more than 3% on Tuesday, with Brent reaching its highest level since late 2014.

While Syria is not a significant oil producer itself, the wider Middle East is the world’s most important crude exporter and tension in the region tends to put oil markets on edge.

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