Asian markets rally as Biden, Xi talk as Hong Kong leads way

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Asian markets bounced back Friday from the previous day's losses, with talks between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping adding to the positive mood heading into the weekend.

Hong Kong led the advances thanks to healthy buying into tech firms that were battered Thursday by China's latest clampdown on the gaming industry, but fears that authorities will crack the whip again continue to weigh on sentiment.

And while Wall Street ended in the red again, there was some cheer from the European Central Bank as it tweaked its monetary stimulus programme, with boss Christine Lagarde saying the move was not a "tapering" but a "recalibration".

But she did warn that "the speed of the recovery continues to depend on the course of the pandemic and progress with vaccinations".

The move eased concerns about the end of the ultra-loose monetary policy that has been crucial to a recovery in economies and equities.

It also came as the Federal Reserve considers when it will start winding in its own scheme, with observers expecting it before the end of the year.

The day had already started on a positive note before news trickled in that Biden and Xi had held their first talks by phone since February, soon after the US president was inaugurated.

In the 90-minute call, Biden urged that "competition" between the world's top two economies did not become "conflict", according to the White House, while Xi called for a new direction in a relationship beset by "serious difficulties".

The call was "candid, in-depth", according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

The talks come as relations between the two are at a low ebb after butting heads on a range of issues including trade, national security, human rights and technology.

OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley said reports that Xi had been making soothing comments towards ASEAN and Australia had also provided traders with some optimism.

"All of that is music to the ears of the Asia-Pacific," he said in a commentary.

"Improved trade with the region, tick. Potentially thawing relations with Australia; tick. President Biden and President Xi talking in person as the first step to warming relations between the two superpowers; tick, tick, tick, tick.

"Unsurprisingly, Asian equities are following the China charm offensive and heading North."

Hong Kong was the standout market, surging 1.5 percent, boosted by tech giants Tencent, NetEase, Alibaba and JD.com after they suffered extensive losses Thursday in reaction to Chinese officials ordering gaming firms to stop focusing on profits.

Tokyo resumed its own rally on stimulus hopes, while there were also healthy gains in Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Jakarta and Manila.

London opened slightly higher despite data showing the UK economic recovery slowed sharply in July. Paris and Frankfurt also rose.

Still, while Asia was on course to end the week with a flourish, economies and stock markets remain hostage to the ravages of the Delta Covid variant, which continues to send infection rates spiking and forcing some governments to impose strict containment measures.

And analysts warned that the recovery would take time.

"Ultimately, the path back to a more normal economic environment is likely going to be long, and we can expect setbacks along the way," Brad McMillan, of Commonwealth Financial Network, wrote in a note.

"The recent slowdown could lead to further volatility in the months ahead."

Oil prices rose after suffering steep losses Thursday in reaction to news that China had released some of its own strategic reserves in order to lower prices.

The move came after data showed factory gate inflation in the country had hit a 13-year high last month owing to the soaring cost of commodities.

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