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Asia: Markets struggle to extend gains, eyes on central banks


[HONG KONG] Asian markets struggled to build on their recent rally as investors cashed in while also looking ahead to key central bank meetings that could provide an idea about monetary policy in the new year.

Wall Street provided yet another record-breaking lead as the selling that hit equities at the start of the month abates, while energy firms were supported by stronger oil prices.

The week kicked off on a high following forecast-busting jobs data from the US on Friday, which reinforced the view that the world's top economy is in rude health.

However, dealers were unable to build on the gains Tuesday, with analysts also pointing to thinning volumes towards the end of the year.

By the break in Tokyo the Nikkei was flat, while Hong Kong and Sydney were also barely moved.

Shanghai slipped 0.3 per cent, Seoul was down 0.4 per cent and Singapore was off 0.2 per cent.

"It's been a few good days on Asia's stock markets as last week's swoon gave way to renewed confidence," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

He added that "save for the recent weakness Asian stock markets have generally performed reasonably well over the past few months".

Mr McKenna attributed the recent losses to profit-taking and lingering concerns about China's economy "rather than anything chronic or outright negative".

Focus is now on the last policy meetings of central banks in the US, Britain and the eurozone this week.

While the Federal Reserve is expected to lift interest rates again, the key will be comments from bank boss Janet Yellen, which will be scanned for clues about its timetable for future increases.

Bitcoin futures for January ended at US$18,850.00 as the cryptocurrency launched in a major exchange Sunday, well above its US$15,000 initial price on the Cboe.

The Cboe launch marked the first opportunity for professional traders to invest in the digital unit on a traditional platform and is expected to be followed in a week by a rival listing on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The spot price for Bitcoin quoted by Bloomberg News - which is lower than the Cboe - was up just 0.3 per cent at US$16,16.760.

On crude markets both main contracts built on Monday's surge that came on news that a pipeline in the North Sea has been shut down for a few weeks after it was found to be leaking.

"This is a significant outage at this pipeline supplies nearly 40 per cent of the North Sea's Crude which represents around 550,000 barrels per day," said Shane Chanel, equities and derivatives adviser at ASR Wealth Advisers.

The closure provided some much-needed support to the commodity as traders grow concerned that a Russia-OPEC output cap could be reviewed next year.