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Asia markets up as Tokyo’s Nikkei closes at a 21-year high

HONG KONG: Japan’s main stock index finished at its highest in more than two decades yesterday, leading broad gains across Asian equities following another record Wall Street close. The rally came as the euro extended gains after Catalonia’s leader stepped back from the brink in a standoff with Spain over independence, though analysts warned of uncertainty in one of the eurozone’s biggest economies.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index finished the day 0.3 per cent higher at 20,881.27 — its best finish since December 1996, the year Prince Charles and Diana divorced, Bill Clinton won his second term as US president and Nintendo launched its Pokemon brand.

Japan’s corporates have enjoyed bumper profits and the economy is enjoying its best growth spurt for years, while equities have also been supported by a global rally that has seen Wall Street chalk up several record finishes in recent weeks. Several other markets in the region are also sitting at multi-year highs, helped by hopes that US President Donald Trump’s proposed big-spending and tax-cutting promises will be implemented and fire up the world economy.

The Nikkei has rebounded from below the 15,000 mark in June last year after Britain’s vote to exit the EU pummelled world markets. Sydney ended 0.6 per cent higher, Seoul jumped one per cent and Shanghai put on 0.2 per cent. Wellington edged up 0.3 per cent and Taipei put on more than one per cent but Hong Kong sank 0.4 per cent. In early European trade London and Frankfurt each rose 0.1 per cent while Paris was flat. Madrid jumped 1.6 per cent.

On foreign exchanges the euro built on Tuesday’s advances after Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence but suspended it in a speech that called for talks to resolve Spain’s worst crisis in decades.

The single currency has come under strain since Catalans voted in an unofficial referendum on October 1 to break away from Madrid, fuelling fears about one of the eurozone’s biggest economies. While Madrid’s equity market retreated, the euro broke back above $1.18 for the first time since the day after the vote. In Asia it pushed on, buying $1.1830 after having wallowed near $1.1700 on Friday. A strong German export report also supported the single currency. However, it is still down two cents from its recent highs last month.

Stephen Innes, head of Asia- Pacific trading at OANDA, said that while the euro rose it “gained little traction as this is little more than kicking the can down the road. It’s unlikely we’ve heard the last of this debate despite cooler heads prevailing.” The greenback was also facing pressure as investors fret over Trump’s tax reform plans. Some fear his rows with various senators could derail an agenda that has helped propel a dollar rally in recent weeks.

Innes pointed out that reports had been swirling suggesting Rand Paul, who helped kill Trump’s health reforms, could refuse any deal as part of the Republican party’s pushback against the president’s antiestablishment agenda. “If the grandstanders in the party’s right-wing follow (the) Rand Paul lead, tax reform will most certainly struggle to pass,”

Innes said, adding that Trump was also embroiled in a row with other lawmakers from his own party who could decide to push back. Oil prices built on Tuesday’s solid gains, which saw both main contracts surge following news that Saudi Arabia planned to cut exports in November. It seems to be an impossible puzzle but it’s easy to solve the Rubik’ Cube using algorithms.

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