Asian shares mixed in quiet pre-Christmas trading

Shares are mixed in quiet trading ahead of the Christmas holiday in many markets

TOKYO —
Shares were mixed Monday in quiet trading ahead of Christmas holidays for many markets.

Concern over the possibility of a North Korean missile test was leavened by signs of further progress in cooling trade tensions between Washington and Beijing as China announced plans to further open its financial markets to private business.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index added 0.2% to 23,858.86 while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong picked up 0.2% to 27,908.92. In South Korea, the Kospi slipped 0.2% to 2,199.35. The Shanghai Composite index edged 0.1% lower to 3,001.73 and Australia’s S&P ASX 200 gave up 0.3% to 6,796.90. Shares rose in Taiwan but retreated in Indonesia and Singapore.

“Short of a significant headline bomb though, Asia is likely to be in extended lunch mode today ahead of the mid-week break globally,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary.

But such a surprise would not be out of the question. Over the weekend, North Korea said its leader Kim Jong Un had convened a key ruling party meeting to decide on steps to bolster the country’s military capability. The meeting comes amid speculation that the North could abandon diplomacy with the U.S. and launch either a long-range missile or a satellite-carrying rocket if Washington doesn’t accept its demand for new incentives to salvage faltering nuclear negotiations by year’s end.

Meanwhile, leaders of China, Japan and South Korea are holding a trilateral summit in China this week amid feuds over trade, military maneuverings and historical animosities.

Economic cooperation and the North Korean nuclear threat are the main issues binding the Northeast Asian troika. While no major breakthroughs are expected at the meetings, the opportunity for face-to-face discussions between the sometimes-mutual antagonists is alone considered significant.

The announcement by the State Council offered broad promises about market liberalization but included exhortations to private businesses to “ardently love the people and the Communist Party” and to “enthusiastically support socialist values.”

The calm start to the week followed a strong performance Friday on Wall Street, where technology and health care stocks helped push indexes to further record highs.

The S&P 500 notched its 10th winning week in the last 11, finishing with a record high for the fourth time last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq composite also ended the week at new highs.

Momentum for stocks has been clearly upward for months, and the market is heading into what’s historically been a seasonally good period.

Rising optimism around a “Phase 1” trade deal announced a week ago between the United States and China has helped push stock indexes to records. Fears about a possible recession have also faded since the summer after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates three times, and the central bank appears set to keep them low for a long time.

The S&P 500 rose 0.5% to 3,221.22. It is up 28.5% for the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.3%, to 28,455.09. The Nasdaq composite added 0.4%, to 8,924.96, while the Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks picked up 0.3%., to 1,671.90. Roughly two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

The U.S. and China agreed on Dec. 13 to cut tariffs on some of each others’ goods and postpone other tariff threats. The interim trade deal has helped ease a key source of uncertainty for investors heading into next year.

Encouraging reports on home construction, industrial production and other economic data last week helped keep the rally going. More good news arrived Friday with a report showing U.S. households continue to spend amid a healthy job market. That is making up for hesitance by businesses to spend, and it’s helping to keep the economy growing at a moderate pace.

Spending by U.S. households rose 0.4% last month from in October. It has been the main pillar for the economy recently, even as CEOs turned cautious amid all the uncertainty created by President Donald Trump’s trade wars.

A separate report confirmed the economy grew at a moderate annual rate of 2.1% in the third quarter. Much of the growth from that July-through-September quarter came from stronger consumer spending.

Stocks have traditionally climbed in the last five days of each calendar year, plus the first two of the new year. It’s happened often enough that traders call it the “Santa rally,” and it’s brought an average gain of 1.3% for the S&P 500 since 1969, according to the Stock Trader’s Almanac.

Over the last 50 years, stocks have climbed in the seven-day stretch roughly three-quarters of the time.

Benchmark crude oil fell 14 cents to $60.30 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 74 cents to settle at $60.44 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, slid 11 cents to $65.09 per barrel. It gave up 40 cents to close at $66.14 a barrel on Friday.

The dolllar rose to 109.43 Japanese yen from 109.40 yen on Friday. The euro strengthened to $1.1078 from $1.1073.