Emerging stocks jump on trade talks progress, S.Africa awaits budget

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BENGALURU (Feb 20): Emerging market stocks jumped on Wednesday encouraged by some progress in China-US trade talks, while currencies firmed as minutes of the last US Federal Reserve meeting due later are expected to reiterate the bank's dovish stance.

The MSCI index of emerging market shares climbed 1.02% after US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that trade talks with China were going well and suggested he was open to pushing off the deadline to complete negotiations.

US tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports are currently scheduled to rise to 25% from 10% if no trade deal is reached by March 1. Tariffs levied so far have already started to hurt global growth and roil markets.

Stocks across Asia were well in the black, with Shanghai stocks turning around early losses to close higher. Bourses in Turkey, Russia and South Africa climbed between 0.5% and 1.3%.

Trade negotiations brought cheer to currencies as well, with the Chinese yuan set to post its best day in almost a month, as United States sought to secure a pledge from China that it would not devalue its currency.

However, "we caution for the risk of devil in the details as exact wordings remain unknown and is still subjected to Trump and (Chinese) President Xi's approval," warned analysts at Maybank about the yuan pledge.

A steady dollar, awaiting minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee expected at 1900 GMT, also lent support to developing market currencies that had seen significant outflows last year thanks to steady rise in the US borrowing rate.

"FOMC minutes will be closely scrutinised for further hints of the evolution of Fed thinking on the longevity of the current rate pause and the balance sheet unwinding process," said analysts at OCBC.

The South African rand fell 0.5% ahead of the annual budget to be presented later in the day. Analysts deem it unlikely that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni will be able to balance welfare promises while also making provisions for cash-strapped state power supplier Eskom.

Moody's is the only rating agency among the top three that has Africa's local currency denominated debt at investment grade. It is to review the rating in March.

A downgrade by Moody's to sub-investment grade would mean the country would then be removed from the Citi World Government Bond Index, which would lead to an increase in the country's cost to raise capital, said Shaun Murison, a senior market analyst at IG Markets in Johannesburg. The Russian rouble slipped as oil prices fell, while Turkey's lira slipped 0.5%. Standard and Poor's on Tuesday said it expects the non-performing loan ratio in Turkey's banking sector to double to 8% as the economy experiences a hard landing.

In Eastern Europe, currencies weakened against a slightly higher euro, while most stocks tracked their global peers higher.