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Stocks flat as Turkey worries offset US-China trade talks

Another steep decline in the Turkish lira yesterday pushed emerging market equities lower and kept other world markets cautious, overshadowing hopes that an upcoming US-China meeting would relieve concerns over trade tariffs.

MSCI’s All-Country World index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, fell less than 0.1 per cent, leaving the index on track for its third straight weekly decline.

A Chinese delegation led by Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen will meet US representatives, China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that talks will take place in Washington on August 21 and 22.

The world’s two largest economies are due to slap tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods on August 23, in addition to levies that took effect on July 6.

“There is still a great deal of difference between agreeing to talk and coming to an agreement,” said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

“For now it appears an escalation has become less likely, hence (Thursday's) rebound in equity markets,” he added, referring to an overnight rally on Wall Street.

In mid-morning trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 19.62 points, or 0.08 per cent, to 25,578.35, the S&P 500 lost 2.28 points, or 0.08 per cent, to 2,838.41 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 42.53 points, or 0.54 per cent, to 7,763.99.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index lost 0.34 per cent.

Turkey’s lira tumbled as much as 8.5 per cent to 6.3 per dollar, having recovered ground rapidly in recent days. It was last down by about 4 per cent.

The currency plunged to a record low of 7.24 per dollar at the start of the week as a worsening of relations between Turkey and the United States added to losses driven by concerns over President Tayyip Erdogan's influence over monetary policy. The currency has lost a third of its value this year.

The United States warned Turkey to expect more economic sanctions unless it hands over detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, as relations between the two countries took a further turn for the worse.

Memories of past emerging market crises, such as the Asian financial turmoil of 1997 and Turkey’s 2001 crisis, haunted investors this week and prompted selling across emerging market assets as a whole. That left emerging market stocks in a technical bear market, or a 20 per cent drop from recent highs.

European banks and copper also fell into bear market territory.

Elsewhere, the dollar dipped against a basket of six major currencies, moving further away from its highest levels since June 2017 hit earlier in the week as investors bought the US currency in a flight to safety.

US crude rose 0.55 percent to $65.82 per barrel and Brent was last at $71.87, up 0.62 per cent on the day.

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