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Asia: Markets muted after Wall Street retreat

[HONG KONG] Asian markets were largely muted on Thursday, tracking a retreat on Wall Street as fears over the progress of US President Donald Trump's tax cut plans dampened investor sentiment.

But Tokyo edged up slightly, bolstered by positive corporate earnings and a weak yen that boosts Japanese exporters' bottomline.

US stocks closed lower after hitting several records in the last month, with disappointing reports from companies including AT&T and Boeing prompting a sell-off across the market.

In Tokyo a remarkable 16-day run of gains had also finally ended Wednesday when the Nikkei closed in negative territory for the first time this month.

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But investors remained bullish amid hopes that re-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would press on with his economic agenda.

Tokyo added 0.2 per cent Thursday while Shanghai also rose 0.2 per cent after China's President Xi Jinping was formally handed a second term in power with no potential successor anointed, raising speculation that he would continue his reign as Communist Party chief beyond 2022.

However Hong Kong slipped 0.2 per cent, while Seoul, Sydney and Singapore were all flat.

REPUBLICAN BICKERING

In the US, underperforming corporate earnings as well as fears that bickering among Republicans would derail Mr Trump's tax reform plans weighed on investor sentiment.

Mr Trump has struggled to marshall the 51 votes he needs to pass his proposal, as critics within his own party have lambasted his combative behaviour.

With 52 Republican senators, more than one defection would cripple his reform bid, forcing him to seek support from Democrats who have attacked his plan, calling it a giveaway to the rich.

"Republican infighting once again threatens to derail the vote," said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at Oanda.

"Uncertainty over the next Fed Chair has traders double and even triple guessing their best-educated guess. Indeed, the agonising wait is taking its toll on positioning as the longer the process gets drawn out, the more nervous the market becomes", Innes added.

Eurozone stocks also retreated ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting Thursday, at which it is expected to announce a big reduction in its bond-buying stimulus as the eurozone economy picks up.

A spike in the pound hit London's FTSE 100, which dropped 1.1 per cent.

Oil prices edged lower as Russia's energy minister Alexander Novak said Moscow would increase its output once again if a deal by producers from Opec and non-Opec countries to cut production by 1.8 million barrels per day is not extended.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has said it will increase its share of the reduction in November, with the deal currently scheduled to expire at the end of March.

Global oil prices more than halved in 2014 because of oversupply and weak global economic growth.

AFP