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Asia: Stocks advance as investors await start of Brexit voting


[SYDNEY] Asian stocks edged higher with voting due to start as Britons decide whether to stay in the European Union.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index gained 0.1 per cent to 129.71 as of 9:02 am in Tokyo. Three of four polls published Wednesday depicted a referendum that's too close to call, with two percentage points or less separating the camps. Bookmakers' odds imply a chance of about one-in-four of a vote to leave.

"Markets seem to have almost entirely priced in a "Remain" vote win, meaning that the market moves and volatility around the vote may be far less than many had been expecting," said Angus Nicholson, Melbourne-based analyst at IG Ltd.

"Nonetheless, markets are still incredibly nervous."

Concern that the UK could secede has whipsawed stock markets this month, wiping more than US$1 trillion from global equity values last week alone. Bookmakers have been predicting a much lower chance of a "Leave" vote since the murder of pro-Europe UK lawmaker Jo Cox last week.

Central bankers including Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen have indicated a victory for Brexit would destabilise global markets.

"Anybody who is predicting this with a high degree of certainty is delusional," Bill Fitzpatrick, portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management, which oversees US$325 billion, told Bloomberg Radio.

"There's plenty of room for risk assets to move higher, but I would wait."

Japan's Topix index rose 0.2 per cent, swinging between gains and losses in early trading, while the yen weakened 0.2 per cent to 104.57 per US dollar.

South Korea's Kospi index slipped 0.3 per cent.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.1 per cent, while New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 Index rose 0.3 per cent.

Futures on the S&P 500 Index added more than 0.4 per cent in early trading. The underlying gauge lost 0.2 per cent on Wednesday, while a measure of European shares rose 0.4 per cent, climbing for a fourth day.