March 15, 2019 / 6:29 AM / 4 days ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks rise as Sino-U.S. trade hopes boost sentiment

* MSCI Asia-Pacific index up 0.55 pct, Nikkei gains 0.8 pct

* Spreadbetters expect higher open for European stocks

* S.Korea stocks trim gains amid geopolitical concerns

* Crude oil hovers near 4-month highs

* Asian stock markets: tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4

By Shinichi Saoshiro

TOKYO, March 15 (Reuters) - Asian stocks advanced on Friday as sentiment improved on a report that U.S.-China trade talks were making progress and after UK lawmakers voted to delay a potentially chaotic exit from the European Union.

Spreadbetters expected a higher open for European stocks, with Britain’s FTSE gaining 0.2 percent and Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC each adding 0.15 percent.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke by telephone with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, with the two sides making further substantive progress on trade talks, Xinhua news agency said on Friday.

Yet, the prospect of the trade talks taking longer than expected tempered the cheer, and there was still no clarity on how close the two economic powers are on reaching an agreement.

Mnuchin said on Thursday that a summit to seal a trade deal between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will not happen at the end of March as previously discussed because more work is needed in negotiations.

MSCI broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.55 percent.

The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.7 percent and Japan’s Nikkei climbed 0.8 percent.

South Korea’s KOSPI was up 0.6 percent. The index had risen as much as 1.2 percent but gave up some gains following reports that North Korea is considering suspending nuclear talks with the United States.

Global markets drew some relief overnight with European stocks rising to a five-month high, boosted by strength in the banking sector after Britain’s parliament voted to reject a disorderly Brexit.

But the S&P 500 dipped 0.1 percent, snapping a three-day winning run, and the Nasdaq shed 0.2 percent on Thursday in the wake of uncertainty over when a U.S.-China trade deal would be reached.

“Initial expectations were for the trade talks to wrap up in March. So any delay causes the markets to automatically assume that the negotiations are not going well, and this is a negative factor for equities,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management in Tokyo.

In the currency market, the pound was steady at $1.3236 , trimming some of the heavy losses suffered overnight.

Sterling retreated 0.75 percent on Thursday as investors geared up for British Prime Minister Theresa May to once more try and win approval for her Brexit deal.

Her third chance to get the divorce deal approved came after British lawmakers voted on Thursday to seek a delay in Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The dollar index slipped 0.15 percent to 96.664 after rising 0.25 percent on Thursday to bounce back from a nine-day trough of 96.385.

The dollar was flat at 111.67 yen.

The greenback briefly dipped to 111.49 yen after the Bank of Japan’s decision on Friday to keep interest rates unchanged, before retracing most of the decline.

Not surprisingly, the Japanese central bank offered a bleaker assessment of exports and output, as global demand waned.

Observers, however, said that it may be too early to expect the BOJ to embark on further policy easing.

“We believe that the BOJ would only ease further in a tail-risk scenario involving a rapid decline in growth and inflation over a short period of time,” wrote economists at Barclays.

The euro edged up 0.1 percent to $1.1316 after slipping 0.2 percent overnight.

U.S. crude oil futures declined a touch to $58.59 per barrel , losing some steam after a recent surge but holding close to a four-month peak of $58.74 brushed on Thursday.

Oil prices soared to the four-month high as investors focused on global production cuts and supply disruptions in Venezuela. (Editing by Sam Holmes & Shri Navaratnam)

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