Modern skyscraper buildings in Central district, Hong Kong, China (Photo by mapman from Shutterstock).

Hong Kong stocks stand out with surge as Asia markets rally

Asian markets rose Wednesday, led by a surge in Hong Kong after reports said the city’s leader was considering agreeing to a key demand of pro-democracy protesters, fuelling hopes for an end to months of damaging protests in the financial hub.

Shares rallied across the board on the Hang Seng Index after the reports, with property and retail firms among the best performers, having taken a hiding over the past few weeks as the demonstrations were increasingly dogged by violence.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Beijing have refused to make any concessions to the protesters beyond agreeing to suspend a loathed extradition bill, a move that fell far short of demands to permanently shelve it.

But one pro-establishment lawmaker who asked to remain anonymous told AFP their camp was being summoned to meet Lam on Wednesday afternoon ahead of an expected major announcement.

Multiple news organisations later said Lam would announce a full withdrawal of the bill later in the afternoon.

“The withdrawal is a sign of an inflection point in the 13-week-long crisis,” Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners, said. “Retail and property stock investors are signalling their optimism and putting their money where it matters.”

Hong Kong — which has more than a tenth of its value over the past three months, partly because of the protests — soared 3.4 percent in afternoon trade, while Shanghai ended 0.9 percent higher.

Most other Asian equity markets also rose after two days of stuttering, with dealers brushing off the latest China outburst from Donald Trump.

The president threatened China that if it did not move quicker in negotiations it would get a worse trade deal from him if he won the 2020 election.

The tweet came as reports said the two sides were struggling to agree parameters for the next round of talks, which Trump had said would go ahead this month.

Pound builds on recovery

Beijing’s point man in the talks, Vice Premier Liu He, met two Republican senators Steve Daines and David Perdue on Tuesday in the Chinese capital and said he wanted a negotiated resolution based on “equality and mutual respect”, state news agency Xinhua reported.

On other markets Tokyo ended 0.1 percent higher, Singapore added 1.4 percent, Seoul climbed 1.4 percent and Taipei added 0.9 percent. Manila, Wellington, Mumbai and Bangkok also posted strong gains.

In early trade London rose 0.3 percent, Paris gains 0.8 percent and Frankfurt was up one percent.

The broad gains also came despite a shock drop in US factory activity into contraction — the first time since Trump came to power and raising concerns about the state of the world’s top economy.

The figures come days before the release of the closely watched jobs data on Friday, which is pored over for an idea about the Federal Reserve’s plans for monetary policy with observers tipping it to cut interest rates again at some point.

The pound continued its recovery from Tuesday’s plunge, with Britain preparing for another general election.

After a day of drama in Westminster, opposition and rebel lawmakers voted to take control of the parliamentary business, allowing them to push through a bill preventing a no-deal Brexit.

The move was a blow for new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with several members of his own Conservative party voting against him and defying a warning of a snap poll in mid-October.

Sterling at one point plunged to $1.1959 Tuesday — its weakest level since 1985 except for a 2016 “flash crash” — but rebounded as traders bet Johnson’s loss would take a no-deal divorce off the table. Most economists say such a scenario would hammer the British economy.

Still, the development means more uncertainty for the country.

Wednesday’s “session of parliament promises more viewing pleasure, with the possibility that the UK will be heading to the polls… one of the many possible permutations. This story is one that will just keep on giving as the week progresses”, said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia-Pacific at OANDA.

Key figures around 0720 GMT

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 3.4 percent at 26,405.71

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.9 percent at 2,957.41 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 at 20,649.14 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,291.87

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2125 from $1.2087 at 2100 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.58 pence from 90.75 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0984 from $1.0975

Dollar/yen: UP at 106.15 yen from 105.94 yen

West Texas Intermediate: UP 43 cents at $54.37 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 38 cents at $58.64 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 1.1 percent at 26,118.02 (close)

— Bloomberg News contributed to this story —