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Asia: Markets turn higher but uncertainty prevails

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets rose on Thursday following broad losses the previous two days but analysts warned caution was prevailing owing to geopolitical worries and fading hopes for Donald Trump's massive stimulus drive.

Energy firms were among the main laggards, tracking losses in their US counterparts, after a surprise jump in US petroleum inventories sent oil prices skidding almost four per cent on Wednesday.

Tokyo ended the morning 0.3 per cent higher, while Hong Kong added 0.5 per cent, Shanghai gained 0.1 per cent, Sydney put on 0.3 per cent, Seoul edged up 0.4 per cent and Singapore 0.2 per cent.

But the gains come after markets have been rattled in recent weeks by a series of events that upended the optimism that saw in the year.

Market voices on:

Mr Trump's failure to push through key healthcare reform last month dealt a huge blow to his chances of passing the tax-cutting, big-spending plan that had helped fan a global rally.

That was followed by a US missile strike on Syria - which hit US-Russian relations - and the ongoing sabre-rattling by North Korea that has fuelled worries about nuclear conflict.

At the same time France and Germany are preparing for elections that could have big implications for the eurozone, and Britain's shock decision to call a general election next month.


And an uninspiring Federal Reserve report Wednesday on the US economy also failed to provide any lift.

"Geopolitical angst, a faltering US economy and the UK snap election are consuming investors mindsets," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at Oanda.

"With so many uncertainties offering few incentives for investors to re-engage risk exposure, clearly there is little market bravado as dealers appear to be disposed to participate after the fact, rather than play the post-election knee-jerk."

Crude enjoyed a slight recovery in Asia but investors kept away from big-name companies after the US energy agency announced the increase in petroleum stockpiles. The news fuelled worries about demand as the country heads into the crucial holiday season when Americans take to the roads.

CNOOC fell 1.5 per cent and PetroChina shed one per cent in Hong Kong, while Sydney-listed Woodside Petroleum lost more than one per cent and Inpex sank 0.8 per cent in Tokyo.

On forex markets, eyes are on this weekend's first round vote in the French presidential elections, with a four-way race making it tough to call who will go into the run-off.

There are fears a win for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, riding a wave of populism, could see the collapse of the eurozone after she said she would withdraw France from the currency bloc.