The yuan has rallied against the dollar after hitting 11-year lows in September, helping ease tensions between Chiina and the United States

London (AFP) - Stock markets were rangebound Tuesday, while the yuan briefly spiked against the dollar on a US decision to no longer consider China a currency manipulator – a further sign of easing tensions between the economic titans.

The US Treasury announcement late Monday came as the two sides prepare to sign the first part of a wider trade agreement that has helped fan a rally in world equity markets.

Washington’s move led also to a temporary sell-off in haven assets with the yen and gold sliding.

Both later recovered however, along with oil prices.

Asia was given a firm lead from Wall Street overnight, whose the Nasdaq and S&P 500 indices struck record highs Monday.

On Tuesday, the Dow was little changed in initial trading.

- ‘Purest barometer’ -

In August, US President Donald Trump had accused Beijing of weakening its yuan currency “to steal our business and factories”, re-stating a long-standing grievance.

But soon after trading ended on Monday, the Treasury said in its semi-annual report to Congress that the yuan had strengthened and Beijing was no longer keeping it artificially weak.

The dollar slumped to 6.8670 yuan at one point, the lowest level since July, before rebounding to trade around 6.8849 in afternoon European trading.

“The yuan is the purest and best barometer to gauge the market’s view on US-China trade tension,” said AxiTrader’s Stephen Innes.

“With the yuan strengthening ahead of the ‘phase one’ deal signing, it’s indicating the potential for further improvement in trade relations.”

The US reversal of China’s status as a manipulator “is a most precise and definitive de-escalation of trade tension to date and provides a less congested road as we pivot to phase two of the broader trade agreement”, Innes added.

- ‘Definitive de-escalation’ -

Data on Tuesday showed China’s trade surplus with the US narrowed 8.5 percent in 2019, which will likely play well in the White House, where the huge disparity is a key bone of contention and a major catalyst of the trade war.

Tokyo’s main stocks index was among the biggest gainers, rising 0.7 percent as the dollar advanced against the yen owing to a rush out of safety – giving a boost to Japan’s exporters.

However, profit-taking saw Hong Kong drop 0.2 percent and Shanghai slip 0.3 percent following recent advances. European stock markets were mixed in afternoon trading.

Improving confidence also hit gold, which is a popular go-to asset in times of turmoil. The yellow metal last week broke $1,600 per ounce for the first time in seven years on the Iran crisis but the lowering of expectations for a conflict with the US has seen it tumble.

The improving China-US outlook heaped further pressure on gold, which dropped to $1,544.00.

- Key figures at 1430 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 7,625.88 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: FLAT at 13,450.44

Paris - CAC 40: FLAT at 6,034.89

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,773.95

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 24,025.17 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.2 percent at 28,885.14 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 3,106.82 (close)

New York - Dow: FLAT at 28,918.07

Dollar/yuan: DOWN at 6.8849 yuan from 6.8938 yuan

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2996 from $1.2989

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.54 pence from 85.72 pence

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1115 from $1.1134

Dollar/yen: UP at 110.01 yen from 109.92

Brent Crude: UP 1.0 percent at $64.81 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.6 percent at $58.43

burs-wai/jh