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Asia markets begin 2018 on a high, led by rally in Hong Kong


[HONG KONG] Asian stocks mostly opened the year with gains on Tuesday as traders drift back to work after the festive break, with Hong Kong the standout performer, though the dollar faced fresh pressure from most other currencies.

Regional investors shrugged off dips in New York on the last day of 2017, instead building on the healthy advances fuelled by strong data, improving corporate profits and hopes Donald Trump's tax cuts will fire US growth.

They are also keeping an eye on the release of key US jobs figures at the end of the week, which will provide fresh clues about the strength of the world's biggest economy.

Hong Kong led Tuesday's rally, jumping 1.6 per cent to its highest level since late 2007, while Shanghai was one per cent higher, boosted by data showing manufacturing activity in China continued to expand in December.

The news comes as China's leaders look to handle a tricky transition of the economy from state investment and exports to one driven by consumer demand, while also addressing a growing debt mountain and fighting pollution.

And Rajiv Biswas, chief Asia-Pacific economist at IHS Markit in Singapore, warned that Beijing's success in this would have consequences around the world.

"Risks to the Chinese economy will remain among the key risks to the global growth outlook in 2018, with the Asia Pacific region particularly vulnerable to the shock waves from a slowdown," he told Bloomberg News.

US Dollar weakness

Among other markets Singapore rose 0.3 per cent after figures showing the city-state's economy beat estimates in the final three months of last year.

Seoul added 0.2 per cent, with some optimism seen after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said he was open to talks with the South.

Taipei was up 0.4 per cent but Sydney slipped 0.2 per cent. Tokyo and Wellington were closed for public holidays.

On currency markets the US dollar suffered further selling, with analysts pointing to profit-taking after the passage of the much-anticipated US tax cuts, as well as expected monetary tightening by other central banks that will align them with the Federal Reserve.

Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, said the euro was rising as "traders are making the bet that the (European Central Bank) will simply follow the Fed in the year ahead and end quantitative easing and then move toward rate hikes".

The single currency is above US$1.20 and sitting at levels not seen since September, while the pound is also around three-and-a-half-month highs.

However, bitcoin was slightly down from its late Monday levels as the cryptocurrency struggles to bounce back from a recent sell-off fuelled by profit-taking. It had soared 25-fold over 2017 to a record high above US$19,500 on Dec 18 before tumbling to just above US$12,000 less than a week later.

It was sitting at US$13,450 in Asia Tuesday.