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Asia markets mixed, dollar rises as Biden's pledges huge stimulus

·4-min read
Joe Biden said he will push for a new economic rescue package worth trillions of dollars

Asian markets were mixed Monday as traders struggled to track another record performance on Wall Street, though investors remain broadly upbeat on the prospect of a further massive stimulus for the US economy, with President-elect Joe Biden calling for a spending spree in the trillions of dollars.

With vaccines being rolled out around the world and key risk events including the US election, Georgia senate runoffs and Brexit now out of the way, observers said focus is now on the expected global recovery from last year's economic catastrophe.

The need for more financial help for the world's top economy was laid out Friday with data showing 140,000 people lost their jobs in December -- the first fall since April -- as virus infections and deaths surged across the country.

Biden, who will be sworn in as president on January 20, said he would press for a new rescue package that includes $2,000 direct payments to taxpayers and help for small businesses.

"The price tag will be high," he warned as he promised to lay out his proposals Thursday. "It will be in the trillions of dollars."

He added: "If we don't act now, things are going to get much worse and harder to get out of a hole later."

Investors welcomed the prospect of another spending splurge that will provide a huge boost to the economy, coupled with Federal Reserve financial support and record low rates for the foreseeable future.

The dollar extended gains across the board, and was sitting at a three-week peak against the yen.

- Covid's 'nasty cloud' -

Wall Street's three main indexes all finished last week at all-time highs, but Asia struggled to push on.

Hong Kong, Mumbai, Taipei, Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok were all up but Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore and Wellington fell, while Seoul was also lower despite a rally in market heavyweight Samsung that was fuelled by reports it is in talks with US giant Intel over making some of its best chips.

London, Paris and Frankfurt all fell at the open.

While the broad consensus is for a strong run in equities this year, there is a feeling that the latest rally may be petering out.

"After being bullish for several months, we are definitely becoming more cautious on the stock market up at these levels," said Matt Maley, at Miller Tabak + Co., adding that most of the surge in the S&P 500 from March its March trough is "behind us".

Axi strategist Stephen Innes added that fears about the virus, which continues to wreak havoc around the world and force governments to impose new lockdowns, remained the main stumbling block.

"Covid concerns continue to hang like a nasty cloud over the market, and given a great deal of optimism in stocks and oil is linked to the rollout of vaccines, investors are sitting with fingers and legs crossed that there won't be any negative news flows on this front (which) would prompt a sharp negative market reaction," he said in a commentary.

He also pointed to ongoing China-US tensions after the White House said it would end self-imposed restrictions on official contacts with Taiwan, a move likely to irk Beijing.

The change will add to complications for Biden as he assumes the presidency, with any move to reverse the decision opening him up to accusations of being soft on China.

Oil prices dropped but remain near 10-month highs, supported by hopes for more stimulus and following Saudi Arabia's announcement last week that it plans to slash output by a million barrels a month in February and March.

- Key figures around 0820 GMT -

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.1 percent at 27,908.22 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.1 percent at 3,531.50 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for a public holiday

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 6,858.61

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2183 from $1.2219 at 2210 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 104.15 yen from 103.95 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3492 from $1.3560

Euro/pound: UP at 90.30 pence from 90.09 pence

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.0 percent at $51.70 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.5 percent at $55.13 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 31,097.97 (close)

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this story --

dan/je