Investors have welcomed reports that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has invited Chinese officials to hold fresh trade talks

Hong Kong (AFP) - Hong Kong led a rally in most Asian markets on Thursday following reports that the US had reached out to China in a fresh bid to avert a trade war, providing some much-needed respite to weary investors.

News that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had invited top Chinese officials for talks comes just under a week after Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on all $500 billion worth of imports from China.

The president’s top economics adviser Larry Kudlow called the move a “positive thing” and added that “you could say that communication has picked up a notch”.

Investors welcomed the reports with Hong Kong jumping more than two percent in the afternoon, having fallen for six straight days and into a bear market, which is a 20 percent drop from its January record high.

Shanghai climbed 1.2 percent, Seoul gained 0.1 percent and Tokyo ended one percent higher.

Wellington, Taipei and Manila were also higher, while Jakarta ran up 0.9 percent and Bangkok 1.6 percent.

But Sydney fell 0.8 percent and Singapore eased 0.2 percent.

“Markets should welcome the news of possible resumption of high-level trade talks between China and the US,” said Tai Hui, JP Morgan Asset Management chief market strategist for Asia-Pacific.

“This may reflect strong feedback from the US corporate sector against further expansion of the list of Chinese exports that would be subjected to higher tariffs.”

However, while he said the latest round of threatened tariffs could be delayed, he said Beijing had already agreed to buy more American goods to reduce its gaping surplus with the US and open up the economy further, so it might not be able to offer much more.

“The road to a more sustained resolution is still challenging,” Tai added.

- Playbook unchanged -

And Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA, said “the playbook remains unchanged and it would be a total surprise for many market participants if the Trump administration didn’t follow through” with the next round of tariffs.

The tariffs are clearly starting to hit US and European firms based in China.

On Thursday, the American Chamber of Commerce in China said a survey found most US companies are seeing rising costs, lower profits and tighter scrutiny, and a separate poll of 200 EU companies in the country showed 17 percent are delaying investment or expansion plans.

That comes a day after the Federal Reserve reported increasing fears across the United States about the trade row, with some businesses planning to curtail capital spending, while a new lobby group announced plans to campaign against the levies in November’s elections.

The optimism also supported emerging-market and high-yielding currencies battered by a flight to safe havens such as the dollar and Japanese yen.

South Africa’s rand rose 1.3 percent, the Russian ruble gained 0.8 percent and the Australian dollar jumped one percent. The South Korean won put on 0.6 percent while the Indonesian rupiah gained 0.3 percent.

Energy firms also climbed with investors keeping tabs on Hurricane Florence as it surges towards the US east coast, with the Carolinas and Georgia in its crosshairs.

Concerns about the massive destruction the storm is likely to cause have helped send oil prices higher, while a forecast-beating draw in US stockpiles added to the increase.

While both main contracts dipped slightly Thursday, Japanese energy firm Inpex piled on 3.7 percent, while in Hong Kong PetroChina soared more than five percent and CNOOC rallied almost four percent.

In early European trade London and Frankfurt each dipped 0.1 percent while Paris was flat.

- Key figures around 0720 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 1.0 percent at 22,821.32 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 2.1 percent at 26,886.80

Shanghai - Composite: UP 1.2 percent at 2,686.58 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,309.14

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1627 from $1.1629 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3040 from $1.3053

Dollar/yen: UP at 111.43 yen from 111.25 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 47 cents at $69.90 per barrel

Oil - Brent Crude: DOWN 39 cents at $79.35 per barrel

New York - Dow Jones: UP 0.1 percent at 25,998.92 (close)