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Most markets rise in Asia with Biden stimulus plan in focus

Joe Biden has said he wants a new stimulus package in the trillions of dollars that includes $2,000 handouts for needy Americans
Joe Biden has said he wants a new stimulus package in the trillions of dollars that includes $2,000 handouts for needy Americans JIM WATSON AFP
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Hong Kong (AFP)

Asian markets mostly enjoyed fresh gains Thursday as investors await Joe Biden's proposals for a vast new stimulus as well as comments from the head of the Federal Reserve on its policy outlook.

News that Donald Trump had been impeached for a historic second time appeared to have little immediate impact on sentiment, despite worries about more unrest across the US leading up to Biden's inauguration on January 20, following last week's storming of the Capitol.

Hopes for another huge spending splurge in the world's top economy also overshadowed fears about surging virus cases -- and record daily deaths in the US and Britain -- that have forced governments to impose new lockdowns.

Analysts said a drug being developed by pharma giant Johnson & Johnson could make a huge difference as it would only need one jab and can be transported more easily.

But for now, the focus is on the president-elect's new economic rescue plan, which he has said would be in the trillions of dollars, with a push for $2,000 cash handouts.

"Investors are willing to look past the political big uglies (in Washington) to sunny days ahead," said Axi strategist Stephen Innes.

"Expectations are building for additional and perhaps larger fiscal stimulus efforts as pandemic priorities remain the first order of business for the Biden administration."

However, there is a worry that with the Senate unlikely to debate the impeachment until after Biden takes office, his legislative programme and cabinet confirmations could be held up.

Still, Innes added that traders were also soothed by comments from top Fed officials indicating they did not support winding down the bank's enormous monetary easing programme any time soon.

Fed boss Jerome Powell's comments in a webinar later in the day will be pored over, hoping for a better idea about policy direction in light of Biden's spending plan, which most observers think will drive inflation higher, and in turn interest rate expectations.

The bank's gigantic bond-buying scheme and easy-money policies have been a key driver of markets' recovery from their March troughs.

- 'A great year' ahead -

Markets also took heart from European Central Bank head Christine Lagarde's view that any move to tighten policy mow "would be very unwarranted" and could lead to "very serious risks".

Innes added that while equities would see losses now and again, the general view is for a healthy advance this year "on the promise of brighter days ahead" and the added support of monetary and fiscal policy.

US markets rose and most of Asia followed suit.

Tokyo piled on more than one percent, while Hong Kong, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Manila and Jakarta were also in positive territory, though Shanghai and Taipei fell.

Investors will be keeping an eye on virus data for an idea about the rate of infections following the Christmas break, with global cases above 91 million and deaths nearing the two million mark.

Gorilla Trades strategist Ken Berman said: "The coming days will be crucial in gauging the severity of the post-holiday bump in the number of cases, which could be crucial for the short-term direction on Wall Street."

Even so, Bob Doll at asset manager Nuveen remained upbeat, telling Bloomberg TV: "This will be a great year for the economy and earnings, but just a good year for the stock market."

Tech giants Alibaba and Tencent surged in Hong Kong after a report that the US will not bar Americans from investing in them, as it has done for other firms over national security concerns.

Top Trump administration officials disagreed about whether to ban the firms' US-listed shares as well as Chinese search engine Baidu, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ultimately prevailing. There had been concerns their inclusion in a blacklist would have a huge negative impact on markets.

Alibaba rallied almost four percent and Tencent jumped almost five percent in morning trade.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 1.4 percent at 28,849.01 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 28,291.44

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.4 percent at 3,582.91

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2144 from $1.2159 at 2220 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 104.13 yen from 103.82 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3631 from $1.3637

Euro/pound: DOWN at 89.09 pence from 89.15 pence

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.2 percent at $52.80 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.2 percent at $55.93 per barrel

New York - Dow: FLAT at 31,060.47 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 6,745.52 (close)

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