Asia Stock Rally Cools After Surge on North Korea Talks

Early enthusiasm seen in global equities, sparked by news North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump have agreed to meet by May, waned by Friday afternoon in Asia—but stocks stayed higher across the region.

“More-realistic expectations are setting in,” said Takahiro Sekido, Japan strategist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average briefly dipped into negative territory after rising as much as 2.4% in morning trading. It finished up 0.3% while South Korea’s Kospi climbed as much as 1.8% before closing 1.1% higher.

In a historic diplomatic breakthrough, President Donald Trump accepted an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to meet "as soon as possible." News of the summit was announced by a senior South Korean official at the White House Thursday evening.

Many other markets were up no more than 0.4%, though Hong Kong’s benchmark was up nearly 1% and the startup-heavy ChiNext Price Index in China surged a further 3.6%, extending recent outperformance.

S&P 500 futures were recently down 0.1%.

The potential meeting between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea, news of which came before most Asian stock markets opened for trading, followed an invitation in a letter from Mr. Kim that was delivered to the White House by South Korea’s national-security adviser. Mr. Kim also reaffirmed that he was prepared to suspend nuclear and missile tests while North Korea engages in talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

But Citi said many “remain skeptical of [a] significant breakthrough” in relations, in light of previous attempts to engage North Korea.

The global market’s focus will turn somewhat toward Friday’s U.S. jobs report, with wage growth again to be closely scrutinized for signals of possible future inflation in America.

Also to be watched are afternoon comments from the Bank of Japan’s chief following Friday’s conclusion of a two-day policy meeting. The central bank’s decision to stand pat on policy was expected, and it saw little reaction on the market. But hints about when policy tweaks could come will be watched for.

A soft spot in both Japan and Korea on Friday was steel stocks, hit by confirmation Thursday that the U.S. will levy tariffs on steel and aluminum. Korean steel stocks fell at least 2%, led by heavyweight Posco’s 3.6% slide. Meanwhile, Japan’s JFE Holdings declined 1.5%, putting its March decline at 9.7%.

People walk past an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average at a securities firm in Tokyo, on Thursday, March 1, 2018. Photo: Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

Some analysts say the tariff announcement should have less impact than initially feared given both Mexico and Canada have been exempted. Others could also receive exemptions over time. U.S. stocks rallied into the close as firm details were released ahead of the closing bell there, though steel companies there fell more than 2%.

“The tariffs are not as tight as people had feared,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets. “Tariffs are not a new thing for the U.S. and I think the markets are moving toward seeing this as a [more holey] tariff wall than was expected.”

But Rob Carnell, chief economist and head of research in Asia-Pacific for ING, said the tariffs were “not the end of the story” and that there might be other levies put in place either by the U.S. or other countries in response.

During the morning’s push into so-called risk assets like stocks, havens such as the Japanese yen fell in Asia. It was widely down about 0.4% against other major currencies, while U.S. gold futures were recently down 0.3% and bond yields edged higher; yields move inversely to prices.

In commodities, oil futures were up about 0.3% after fresh overnight selling. The U.S. on Wednesday released data showing average daily output last week hit another record high. Meanwhile, Asian palm oil prices hit their lowest level since August 2016 on concerns about demand, especially in key user India in the wake of new import tariffs on the commodity.

—Suryatapa Bhattacharya and Gregor Stuart Hunter contributed to this article.

Write to Lucy Craymer at Lucy.Craymer@wsj.com

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