Asian markets struggle to extend gains, eyes on central banks

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Hong Kong (AFP)

Asian markets struggled to build on their recent rally as investors cashed in while also looking ahead to key central bank meetings that could provide an idea about monetary policy in the new year.

Wall Street provided yet another record-breaking lead as the selling that hit equities at the start of the month abates, while energy firms were supported by stronger oil prices.

The week kicked off on a high following forecast-busting jobs data from the US on Friday, which reinforced the view that the world's top economy is in rude health.

However, dealers were unable to build on the gains Tuesday, with analysts also pointing to thinning volumes towards the end of the year.

By the break in Tokyo the Nikkei was flat, while Hong Kong and Sydney were also barely moved.

Shanghai slipped 0.3 percent, Seoul was down 0.4 percent and Singapore was off 0.2 percent.

"It's been a few good days on Asia's stock markets as last week's swoon gave way to renewed confidence," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

He added that "save for the recent weakness Asian stock markets have generally performed reasonably well over the past few months".

McKenna attributed the recent losses to profit-taking and lingering concerns about China's economy "rather than anything chronic or outright negative".

- 'Significant outage' -

Focus is now on the last policy meetings of central banks in the US, Britain and the eurozone this week.

While the Federal Reserve is expected to lift interest rates again, the key will be comments from bank boss Janet Yellen, which will be scanned for clues about its timetable for future increases.

Bitcoin futures for January ended at $18,850.00 as the cryptocurrency launched in a major exchange Sunday, well above its $15,000 initial price on the Cboe.

The Cboe launch marked the first opportunity for professional traders to invest in the digital unit on a traditional platform and is expected to be followed in a week by a rival listing on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The spot price for Bitcoin quoted by Bloomberg News -- which is lower than the Cboe -- was up just 0.3 percent at $16,16.760.

On crude markets both main contracts built on Monday's surge that came on news that a pipeline in the North Sea has been shut down for a few weeks after it was found to be leaking.

"This is a significant outage at this pipeline supplies nearly 40 percent of the North Sea?s Crude which represents around 550,000 barrels per day," said Shane Chanel, equities and derivatives adviser at ASR Wealth Advisers.

The closure provided some much-needed support to the commodity as traders grow concerned that a Russia-OPEC output cap could be reviewed next year.

- Key figures around 0300 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: FLAT at 22,944.21 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: FLAT at 28,954.77

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 3,312.24

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1777 from $1.1769 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3343 from $1.3340

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.48 yen from 113.56 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 28 cents at $58.27 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 51 cents at $65.20 per barrel

New York - DOW: UP 0.2 percent at 24,386.03 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.8 percent at 7,453.48 (close)