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Asia: Markets slip as investors take step back

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[HONG KONG] Asian stocks turned negative on Friday and oil prices retreated along with the dollar as investors took a step back from a recent rally, while caution set in ahead of a crunch referendum in Italy at the weekend.

World markets have been rising since Donald Trump's shock US election win on hopes his big-spending, tax-cutting policies will boost the world's largest economy.

The advance was given extra impetus on Wednesday when Opec agreed on a plan to cut oil production, sending prices soaring.

But James Woods, global investment analyst at Rivkin Securities in Sydney, told Bloomberg News: "Markets have rallied pretty strongly and we had three fantastic weeks but buying pressure certainly looks exhausted.

"We will see some corrective declines and profit taking." Japan's Nikkei, which on Thursday closed at its highest level this year, slipped 0.47 per cent by the break, while Hong Kong gave up 0.6 per cent and Shanghai slipped 0.1 per cent.

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Sydney fell 0.6 per cent, Seoul shed 0.5 per cent, while Singapore and Wellington each gave back 0.2 per cent.

Japanese exporters retreated on the back of a strengthening yen. In early trade the dollar bought 113.75 yen, having flirted with 115 yen earlier this week, which was a nine-month high.

On oil markets both main contracts dipped marginally after racking up double-digit gains in the previous two days in reaction to Opec's output-cutting deal.

Traders are now awaiting key events at the weekend. On Friday the US releases its November jobs report, which could give an indication of the Federal Reserve's plans for interest rates over the next year.

And on Sunday Italy goes to the polls for a constitutional referendum, with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi saying he will resign if his government loses, leading to a possible general election.

While experts say the chances of a Eurosceptic party gaining power is low, there are worries about the uncertainty it could create in one of the EU's biggest economies.

Also on Sunday, Austrians will vote for a new president, with Norbert Hofer seeking to become Europe's first far-right president since 1945.

While the post is largely ceremonial, a win for Mr Hofer would be a major symbolic victory for populists - many of whom are anti-EU - across Europe ahead of several elections in 2017.


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