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World trade contracts as US-China trade war drags on


Happy Tuesday. A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here.

The United States and China could still reach a “phase one” trade deal. That’s the message for investors after top US and Chinese negotiators had a phone call late Monday (or Tuesday morning, Beijing time).

What they talked about: Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer discussed “core concerns” and “reached a consensus on how to resolve these issues,” while agreeing to keep the conversation going, according to China’s Commerce Ministry.

That’s the kind of update traders like to hear, especially as they worry about when the “phase one” deal promised last month will be completed, if ever.

But it comes up against a less rosy development: global trade shrank 1.3% in September, according to the latest data from the CPB World Trade Monitor. That’s a marked decline from August, when trade increased 0.5%.

Timme Spakman, an economist at ING, points out that this is concerning given that uncertainty on the trade front is “far from over.”

“Trade tensions have slammed the brake on world trade growth in 2019,” he wrote in a note to clients. “While the trade war has directly affected trade flows between China and the US, the fallout has been widespread.”

Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes puts it bluntly: “World trade is still not growing and will remain a drag on global GDP.”

Remember: That sounds like a gloomier view than the one held by Goldman Sachs, which has said it expects the trade drag to ease up in 2020.

Bitcoin hits a speed bump

This time two years ago, Bitcoin was zooming higher, eventually peaking above $18,000.

Things are different now. This week, the cryptocurrency sank to its lowest level in six months after China pledged to toughen its stance on cryptocurrency operations in the country — indicating that while Beijing is bullish on blockchain technology, it’s still likely to exert control over decentralized crypto coins.

“We will probably see, it seems, a cryptocurrency version of the yuan, but it’s not going to be in the form that Bitcoin enthusiasts envisage,” Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at currency trader Oanda, told me.

Where we’ve landed: After falling below $6,500, Bitcoin has recovered slightly and is now trading above $7,070.

Erlam expects pressure on Bitcoin to continue as governments increase their scrutiny of cryptocurrencies. In the past 12 months, policymakers have indicated they’re willing to flex their muscle, especially in light of projects like Facebook’s Libra.

In the meantime, real-world adoption has been slow. Companies like JPMorgan have explored the use of digital coins to ease payment processes. But such use cases look less revolutionary than what some investors had hoped for 24 months ago.

“I think skepticism around decentralized currencies is growing rather than abating,” Erlam said.

Alibaba’s successful Hong Kong debut

Good news for Alibaba on the first day its shares traded in Hong Kong.

Investors poured into the secondary listing, driving the stock up nearly 7% above the issue price. For Hong Kong, it’s a vote of much-needed confidence in the wake of nearly six months of political unrest.

It also raised a big pool of cash for Alibaba — as much as $13 billion, to be exact.

That means the company pulled off the year’s biggest listing … for now. With Saudi Aramco’s public debut expected in coming weeks, Alibaba may not hold that title for long. The Aramco deal could be the biggest IPO ever, overtaking even Alibaba’s 2014 debut in New York. That launch raised $25 billion.

Up next

Abercrombie & Fitch, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Dollar Tree report before US markets open. Dell and HP follow after the close.

Also today:

  • US consumer confidence for November arrives at 10 a.m. ET.
  • New US home sales for October also posts at that time.

Coming tomorrow: One more batch of US economic data before Thanksgiving.

Article Topic Follows: Biz/Tech

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