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Asian markets chase record Wall St close on hopes for US stimulus

© AFP | After weeks of unease across world markets, investors have been buoyed after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said a planned overhaul of the US tax code would be released "very soon"

HONG KONG (AFP) - 

Asian markets built on a Wall Street rally Friday as geopolitical fears gave way to fresh hopes for Donald Trump's stimulus after his top finance man said a US tax reform plan would be released "very soon".

Global markets have taken a hit this month owing to concerns about US-Russia relations, tensions on the Korean peninsula and the president's failure to push through a key healthcare bill.

But the risk-off mood was smothered after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the tax code overhaul promised by Trump was close. The reforms, along with promises for big infrastructure spending, were a key driver of a global equity rally since the tycoon's November election win.

The news was met with relief by Wall Street, with the Nasdaq leading a surge in all three main indexes and hitting a new record high. The dollar, which has struggled in recent weeks against the safe-haven yen, also broke out of its malaise, buying 109.34 yen from 109.31 yen in New York and well up from 108.80 yen in Asia Thursday.

Adding to the dollar bounce were comments from a top Federal Reserve official saying he expected the central bank to hike interest rates three times this year.

Tokyo's Nikkei closed up one percent as exporters were boosted by the weaker yen and comments from Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda that he would maintain a loose monetary policy, despite an improvement in the economy.

Hong Kong added 0.2 percent in the afternoon, while Sydney put on 0.6 percent, Seoul jumped 0.7 percent and Taipei 0.9 percent. There were also strong gains in Singapore and Manila. Jakarta was higher after US Vice President Mike Pence announced $10 billion in US-Indonesian deals.

Shanghai was flat, with investors fretting over news that Trump had ordered a probe into US steel imports, which raised anew the threat of a trade war between the US and China.

- Euro holds up after attack -

On forex markets the euro suffered a brief dive against the dollar after a gunman -- who the Islamic State group said was one of their followers -- opened fire in the middle of Paris, killing one policeman. The currency later recovered and was flat against the dollar in early Asian trade.

?It looks like the Trump administration wants to reignite the market?s expectations for policies,? Hideyuki Ishiguro, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News.

?Kuroda?s comments didn?t diverge from his past stance, but since the yen had strengthened a fair amount it became a trigger for some profit-taking.?

Attention now turns to this weekend's first-round presidential vote in France, with a four-way split leaving analysts unable to work out which two candidates are likely to win through a second phase.

While there are fears the far-right Marine Le Pen will qualify, observers believe the moderate Emmanuel Macron will beat her in next month's run-off.

However, there is unease that a win for Le Pen could lead to France's exit from the European Union and possible collapse of the bloc.

In early European trade Paris fell 0.3 percent in the first reaction to the shooting, while Frankfurt was flat but London added 0.2 percent.

- Key figures at 0710 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 1.0 percent at 18,620.75 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 24,099.56

Shanghai - Composite: FLAT at 3,173.15 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,129.63

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0716 from $1.0715 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2814 from $1.2812

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.34 yen from 109.31 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP nine cents at $50.80 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP nine cents at $53.08

New York - Dow: UP 0.9 percent at 20,578.71 (close)

© 2017 AFP