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Asia: Markets mostly up but traders on edge after losses

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[HONG KONG] Most Asian markets edged up on Thursday after a recent sell-off across global markets but gains were tempered as the optimism that pushed equities to multi-year highs last week gives way to investor caution.

Prices have been falling for much of the week as the sharp gains of October and early November led to profit-taking and worries about high valuations, while US lawmakers' tax reform struggles are also dampening sentiment.

Eyes are on Washington as Republicans from each chamber of Congress provide differing plans to overhaul the tax system, raising concerns they will not be able to push anything through before the end of the year, as Donald Trump had hoped.

The most recent idea in the Senate is to repeal the Obamacare individual mandate as part of the plan, leading to speculation the legislation could collapse in the same way as their healthcare reforms.

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Market voices on:

"This is a classic omnibus political stunt to get an unattractive piece of legislation passed by stapling it to something that is likely to get passed," Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, said.

"But, given that such a move was already expressly voted down on the floor off the Senate, and taking into account resistance from House Republicans it may have just made the President's Christmas timetable a little harder to meet."

Failure of the bill could hit world equities, which have rallied on the back of hopes the market-friendly measures would be introduced.

On Wall Street all three indexes were sharply lower a week after posting record highs.

OIL GAINS LIMITED

Tokyo, which had fallen for six straight days after hitting a 25-year high on Tuesday, were up 0.8 per cent by the break. Hong Kong added 0.4 per cent and Shanghai gained 0.1 per cent.

Sydney was marginally higher and Seoul added 0.3 per cent, while Wellington, Taipei and Manila were in positive territory.

However, while oil prices crept up energy firms in Asia continued to struggle with the fallout of this week's big losses in the commodity.

Hong Kong-listed CNOOC and PetroChina were in the red, while Inpex in Tokyo and Sydney-listed Rio Tinto were also down.

Oil prices plummeted on Tuesday and Wednesday after the International Energy Agency (IEA) cut its forecast for crude consumption for next year. That was compounded by data pointing to a rise in US stockpiles.

While official figures Wednesday showed the increase in reserves was not as big as expected, investors remain on edge, and there are also worries an Opec-Russia output cut might not be extended.

"It sounds like there is some discourse between Opec and non-Opec in terms of not committing to something at the end of the month, and maybe kicking the can down the road," Nick Holmes, an analyst at US-based Tortoise Capital Advisors LLC, told Bloomberg News.

AFP

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