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Asia: Markets fluctuate as dealers brush off Wall Street record

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets fluctuated on Wednesday following a record-breaking close on Wall Street that was fuelled by strong earnings from US big-hitters.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq scaled all-time highs while the Dow came close after a string of better-than-forecast results from the likes of Coca-Cola, Twitter and Lockheed Martin added to a raft of other recent reports that suggest the economy is in rude health.

Markets welcomed "a really great string of earnings reports, most of them outpacing expectations, as well as some pretty good commentary on future estimates from CEOs", Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Weeden, told Bloomberg News.

"There's quite a bit of positivity carrying this to new highs."

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However, while Asian dealers were generally upbeat they were unable to use the Wall Street performance to kick on in early trade, with major indexes shifting in and out of positive territory through the morning.

Hong Kong and Shanghai were each down 0.2 per cent in the morning while Tokyo headed into the break flat and Seoul slipped 0.7 per cent.

However, Sydney rose one per cent as a drop in Australian inflation raised the chances of an interest rate cut by the country's central bank. The reading sent the Australian dollar plunging one percent.

Singapore, Taipei and Manila each rose 0.2 per cent, Wellington added 0.7 per cent while Jakarta inched up slightly.

OIL PRICES RETREAT AFTER RALLY 

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin travel to Beijing next week for another round of high-level talks aimed at resolving their painful tariffs war.

The White House issued a statement saying the latest negotiations "will cover trade issues including intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, services, purchases and enforcement", adding that Chinese officials will visit Washington on May 8.

Expectations the talks will eventually end with an agreement between the economic superpowers has helped fire a rally across world markets this year, with the initial row having been the catalyst for a sharp sell-off at the end of 2018.

On oil markets both main contracts were in retreat a day after hitting six-month highs on the back of news that Washington would end a waiver for several countries from US sanctions on Iran.

Prices had already been surging thanks to hopes for the China-US talks and, Opec and Russia's output cap, and unrest in Libya and Venezuela.

There is speculation Opec kingpin Saudi Arabia could step in to fill the void left in the market by the removal of Iranian crude, which would temper prices.

But SPI Asset Management's Stephen Innes said Riyadh could balk at such a move, having opened the taps when the US unveiled sanctions six months ago only to be "hoodwinked" by the waivers.

"If the US is fully committed to their hawkish Iranian pledge... prices will reprice higher as Saudi Arabia appear tentative about increasing supplies, while it is unlikely (US) shale can fill the void quick enough," Innes said in a note.

"So to what degree oil markets tighten, and how high oil price goes, will now mostly be dependent on the supply response from Opec+ group."

AFP