The healthy rally that equities have enjoyed this year appears to be stuttering

Hong Kong (AFP) - Asian markets were mixed Friday as a volatile week drew to a close with investors preparing for the start of the corporate earnings season.

With few fresh developments on the China-US trade talks, the rally that characterised the first three months of the year appears to be running out of steam, while Donald Trump’s threats of tariffs against Europe has jolted confidence.

Data Friday showed China’s imports falling more than expected in March, signalling ongoing fragility in the world’s number two economy, even as exports enjoyed a sharp rise.

Total imports sank 7.6 percent on-year last month while exports rose 14.2 percent, the data from China’s customs administration showed.

Economists polled by Bloomberg had expected a slight 0.2 percent rise in imports with exports projected to grow 6.5 percent.

The readings come after a run of positive releases from Beijing including forecast-beating factory activity and a jump in inflation in the world’s second largest economy.

“Recent improvements in China activity data… expectations of further feed-through from policy stimulus to the real economy and signs of some partial form of US-China trade truce have all given rise to a more bullish China sentiment,” said Jasslyn Yeo, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management.

With Wall Street providing a weak lead, Asian equities struggled for direction.

Tokyo finished 0.7 percent higher as the dollar’s rebound encouraged buying, while Shanghai pared earlier losses to close marginally down.

Hong Kong closed up 0.2 percent, while Sydney and Seoul both ended the day well into positive territory. Singapore was down in late trade.

London’s benchmark index rose in early trade.

The business reporting season gets underway Friday in the United States and observers will be looking for a read of the corporate landscape in the first three months of the year.

The firms’ forecasts will be pored over but overall expectations for the quarter are low.

“Earnings season is still to come and that’s going to be really interesting,” Steven Glass, Sydney-based fund manager at Pengana Holdings, told Bloomberg TV.

“We are finding value in emerging markets but we do think the US is looking vulnerable due to valuations.”

In commodities markets, West Texas oil futures rose again as they prepared to chalk up their sixth consecutive weekly advance, the best streak since 2016.

- Key figures around 0820 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 21,870.56 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 29,771.14 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: FLAT at 3,188.63 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3066 from $1.3058 at 2100 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.42 pence from 86.20 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1291 from $1.1253

Dollar/yen: UP at 111.93 yen from 111.66 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 49 cents at $64.07 per barrel

Oil - Brent Crude: UP 39 cents at $71.22 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.1 percent at 26,143.05 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,432.95