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Most Asia markets up as rally presses ahead

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Hong Kong (AFP)

Asian markets mostly extended their rally Tuesday with Tokyo boosted by a jump in the dollar against the yen after a top Federal Reserve official said the bank could lift interest rates as soon as next month.

With Wall Street's trading floors closed for the Presidents Day holiday there was little to drive business but the optimism that was prevalent last week continued to flow in early exchanges.

Europe provided a tepid lead with hopes of a bailout deal for Greece tempered by signs of growing anti-EU sentiment in France ahead of the presidential election in April and May.

In Tokyo the Nikkei index ended the morning session 0.5 percent higher as exporters were lifted by the weaker yen.

The dollar climbed to 113.46 yen from 113.09 yen Monday following comments from the head of the Fed's Philadelphia branch, Patrick Harker, that a March rate rise was not "off the table at this point".

Expectations of a hike have increased since Donald Trump was elected president in November as dealers bet his big-spending, tax-cutting plans will fan inflation. And the latest reading on prices increases, as well as healthy jobs growth and factory activity, have reinforced that view.

Hong Kong added 0.2 percent in the morning and Shanghai was up 0.3 percent while Seoul put on one percent. Sydney was flat while Singapore dipped 0.1 percent.

On currency markets Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, said the euro "traded a little heavy, but with much ink spilled over the French elections, (it) has held remarkably well.

"Traders donned their noise-cancelling headphones, not wanting to get emotionally caught in EU political melodrama at this stage."

Investors are keeping an eye on the release this week of Fed minutes from its most recent policy meeting hoping for fresh clues about its plans for rates, while preliminary factory figures are also due this week from the US and Europe.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 19,339.63 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.1 percent at 24,189.80

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,248.84

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0582 from $1.0622

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2454 from $1.2467

Dollar/yen: UP at 113.46 yen from 113.09 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 20 cents at $53.98

Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN four cents at $56.14 per barrel

London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,299.86 points (close)

New York - Dow: UP less than 0.1 percent at 20,624.05 (Friday's close)

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