Markets May 25

Investors edgy as US-China spar over Hong Kong

US officials say the new law, expected to be passed on May 28, would prevent Hong Kong from maintaining a high degree of autonomy, and trigger US sanctions

Investors edgy as US-China spar over Hong Kong
Pro-democracy supporters take part in an anti-government rally in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on May 24, 2020. Violence, arrests and use of water cannons returned to Hong Kong streets with hundreds of protesters marching against China's plan to impose a national security law. Photo: Miguel Candela / Anadolu via APF

(ATF) Investors are cautious amid rising tensions between US and China over a proposed national security law that is widely perceived as hurting Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre.

US officials say the new law, expected to be passed on May 28, would prevent Hong Kong from maintaining a high degree of autonomy, and trigger US sanctions.

Currently Hong Kong enjoys a special status under US laws and rescinding it would effectively mean treating the Asian financial hub no differently than any other Chinese city, opening it to US tariffs, sanctions, and export restrictions that apply to China.

China says the national security laws would ban sedition, secession, and subversion of China’s central government.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down 0.93% after pro-democracy protestors resumed their agitation on Sunday following Beijing’s move, which they say would be a blow to autonomy and the civil liberties.

“If America wants to escalate the issue further, the nuclear option would be to remove the special status Hong Kong enjoys under US, law which would effectively reduce Hong Kong’s status to that of just another Chinese city,” Christopher Wood of Jefferies & Co. said in his note 'Greed & Fear'.

“US financial and business interests would certainly be opposed to any such move. But it does not seem at the moment that the corporate sector’s lobbying power is working, with Donald Trump having seemingly decided that blaming China for Covid-19 is the best strategy for his re-election.”

He said the best hope for an improvement in US-China relations would be if the virus disappears as quickly, in line with his base case of a three-four month cycle.

“For this would allow the Donald to pivot back to focus on the positive, namely a recovering American economy and even a China trade deal, if Beijing has not walked out of the negotiations by then.”

Nikkei and S&P up

However, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose 1.45% after the government lifted the state of emergency in Tokyo and five remaining prefectures as new coronavirus infections continue to fall. Investors also received a boost after a media report the country was considering a fresh stimulus package worth over almost $1 trillion, comprising financial aid programmes for companies hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian markets were also firm, with the S&P ASX 200 up by 1.42% as schools reopened and investors focused on economic recovery.

Credit markets were firm as the Asia IG Index tightened by a basis point at 106/108 bps. Sovereign CDS moved in by 1-2 basis points with new issues announced by AVIC Capital and China Ping An Insurance.

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