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Asia: Markets edge up but uncertainty reigns

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets edged up on Thursday but traders remain cautious, with another record close on Wall Street providing some support but Tokyo hit by a stronger yen.

The uncertainty that has tainted trading floors for weeks continues to weigh as Donald Trump appears to press on with a protectionist agenda but provides no details on his pledge to ramp up the US economy and cut red tape.

The dollar has been a major casualty as dealers withdraw initial bets that his big-spending plans would stoke US inflation, and in turn, interest rates. The greenback has fallen around five per cent from this year's highs against the yen.

On Thursday the US unit was sitting around 112 yen, having fallen below that level for the first time since November.

However, the dollar remains buoyed against the euro as the rise of populists ahead of elections this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy fuel worries about the future of the European Union. Added to that is the prospect of a return to the Greek debt crisis.

In share trading Tokyo ended the morning 0.2 per cent lower, while Sydney was down 0.1 per cent.

Hong Kong added 0.4 per cent and Shanghai put on 0.2 per cent while Seoul was marginally higher.

In New York the Nasdaq ended at a record high for the second successive day, while the Dow closed above 20,000 despite ending slightly lower.

But while US markets are pushing on, Asian dealers are more concerned about the new US president's anti-globalisation rhetoric, which has fuelled fears of a trade war.

"The Trump trade is the primary focus for equity markets and without any further guidance on US tax policies, investors stay on the sidelines, annoyed and concerned about the unknown," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, in a note.

Investors will be closely watching this weekend's meeting between Trump and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in which they will discuss trade and other issues.

"The event risk is clearly the downside, if this meeting does not go well as on trade negotiations," Mr Innes said.

Gold prices extended their recent gains as nervous traders move into safer assets as a hedge against volatility. The precious metal climbed US$3 to US$1,240, and is up eight percent since the start of the year.


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