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Asia: Markets mostly down after US losses


[HONG KONG] Asian markets mostly turned lower on Thursday following a rare drop for this month on Wall Street, with concerns about Italy's banking sector denting confidence.

With dealers winding down for the Christmas break business is thinning, making swings sharper while profit-takers close in after the recent global rally.

Trading floors from Asia to the Americas have been humming since Donald Trump last month won the US presidential election, with dealers betting his big-spending, tax-cutting policies will ramp up growth in the world's top economy.

That has also fuelled a surge on US markets, with all three main indexes clocking up record closes in December.

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However, the Dow slipped for just the fourth time this month, having hit multiple all-time highs and bearing down on the key 20,000-point mark.

And in early trade Asian markets followed their US counterparts' lead.

Tokyo was down 0.16 per cent at lunch, having risen for 10 of the previous 12 sessions.

"Moderate losses on Wall Street, underpinned by the fall in oil prices, are providing little inspiration for Asian markets today," Jingyi Pan, a strategist at IG Asia in Singapore, told Bloomberg News.

"Thin volumes are also providing little momentum for trade into the end of the year." Hong Kong lost 0.5 per cent, Shanghai shed 0.2 per cent and Singapore fell 0.4 per cent. Taipei, Manila and Kuala Lumpur also retreated.

Seoul was flat while Sydney was 0.3 per cent higher and Wellington climbed 0.5 per cent after data showed the New Zealand economy grew more than expected July-September.

Financial firms fell on worries over Italy, where the world's oldest bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena plunged more than 12 per cent as it struggles to stay afloat under massive debts.

The lender's troubles mirror a wider problem in Italy's banking industry, which is buckling under bad loans, prompting parliament to approve a 20 billion euros (S$30.1 billion) support package.

There are fears a collapse in the country's finance sector could batter the global banking industry.

Expectations Mr Trump's spending will fuel inflation and force the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates has also boosted the dollar against all its peers and on Thursday it held its recent gains, sitting at 10-month highs against the yen and near 14-year highs versus the euro.

On oil markets, both main contracts edged up after tumbling more than one per cent on Wednesday on the back of a report showing a rise in US stockpiles, confounding expectations for a fall.