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Euro presses higher against US dollar, Asia markets cautious

[HONG KONG] The euro extended its gains in Asian trade on Friday as traders bet on the European Central Bank winding in its huge stimulus programme, while equity markets ended a volatile week on a cautious note.

ECB boss Mario Draghi sent the euro surging past US$1.20 for the first time since the beginning of January 2015 by saying policymakers would decide next month on the bank's plans for its bond-buying scheme.

While not openly saying that it would begin to cut back on the programme, his comments - and his lack of concern about the strong euro - were taken as a nod that the tapering would begin soon.

The remarks came as figures showed the eurozone economy continued to improve in the second quarter.

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"Growth at these levels does not warrant the continuation of the ECB's bond-buying programme. So it must end. The ECB knows it and the market knows it. That's what is driving the euro higher and it's what is complicating the decision for the ECB on the when and how," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

The dollar was also coming under pressure from concerns about the impact of Hurricane Irma, which is about to strike Florida this weekend, while the chances of Donald Trump pushing through his market-friendly economic agenda are slimming.

'BUMPY ROAD'

"Investors have renewed their interest on the US political overhang as the political landscape continues to weigh heavily on the dollar. Specifically, the long and winding and no less bumpy road to tax reform looks more of a pipe dream now than ever," said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at Oanda.

The greenback is at its lowest levels since November and could fall below the 108 yen, analysts warned.

North Korea tensions, which fuelled a global sell-off after Pyongyang tested what it said was a hydrogen bomb Sunday, were eased a little by Trump's remarks that a US military strike was "not inevitable".

However, with world powers struggling to agree on a way to address the crisis markets remain on edge, with many observers fearing the North will conduct another missile test on Saturday.

On equity markets, Tokyo ended the morning 0.4 per cent lower with exporters hit by the stronger yen while figures showed the Japanese economy continued to expand in the second quarter but at a slower pace that first thought.

Sydney was down 0.3 per cent and Shanghai gave up 0.1 per cent but Hong Kong edged up 0.3 per cent and Singapore was 0.2 per cent higher. Wellington and Taipei were also slightly up.

AFP