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Asia: Stocks struggle as Trump offers few policy details, US dollar firm

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[SINGAPORE] US stock futures pared gains on Wednesday on disappointment that President Donald Trump did not offer further details on his plans for infrastructure spending and tax reforms, but the US dollar firmed on growing expectations of a rate hike this month.

Mr Trump pledged to overhaul the immigration system, improve jobs and wages for Americans and promised "massive" tax relief to the middle class and tax cuts for companies, but offered few clues on how they would be achieved.

"Investors had little to grasp, and market reaction during the speech was choppy and directionless," market strategists Paul Christopher, Scott Wren and Sameer Samana at Wells Fargo Investment Institute in St Louis said.

"The speech was short on details and did not even prioritise the president's goals."

Market voices on:

Capital Economics' Paul Ashworth said Mr Trump was struggling to implement his agenda.

"With Congress getting bogged down by Republican infighting over efforts to repeal and replace existing health care legislation, it will take considerably longer to pass tax reform than we initially thought on election night," Mr Ashworth said in a note.

"There is now a good chance that it won't happen until early next year."

US stock futures still pointed to a higher open after Mr Trump's address, though gains shrank as the speech progressed.

E-mini S&P futures edged up 0.2 per cent, after the Dow Jones Industrial Average snapped a 12-day winning streak to close down 0.1 per cent in the prior session.

The US dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, advanced almost 0.4 per cent to 101.49 after wobbling during the speech.

The US currency also rebounded against the yen, rising 0.35 per cent to 113.16 yen, after earlier erasing its gains.

Reaction in Asian stock markets to Mr Trump's speech was also largely muted, with the MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan down about 0.2 per cent.

A raft of surveys pointing to stronger factory activity in China, Japan and other parts of the region were largely overshadowed by Mr Trump's speech.

"The market has been looking for reassurance that Trump intends to follow through on his campaign promises for fiscal spending, tax cuts and deregulation," said James Woods, global investment analyst at Rivkin in Sydney.

"He mentioned these policies but did not provide any actual details or time lines, which is what investors are looking for."

"However, in particular I think his rhetoric has been toned down around protectionism when mentioning China and Mexico easing concerns around trade wars."

Markets took note of that shift, with the Mexican peso trading higher after Mr Trump's speech. While still pledging to build a wall on the US's border with Mexico, Mr Trump made no mention of his earlier promises to make the latter pay for it.

The US dollar fell 0.1 per cent to 20.0815 pesos.

In Asian markets, Chinese stocks advanced 0.4 per cent after the stronger-than expected factory readings.

Japan's Nikkei jumped 1.1 per cent, buoyed by a weaker yen and data showing manufacturing activity expanded in February at the fastest pace in almost three years.

Australian shares were off 0.5 per cent despite stronger-than-expected GDP data, though the Australian dollar edged up 0.1 per cent to US$0.7663 on confirmation the economy had returned to growth in the fourth quarter.

Treasury yields, which had jumped after Fed officials suggested an interest rate rise might be delivered later this month, remained near that level after Mr Trump's speech.

US 2-year Treasury yields were at 1.2999 after Mr Trump's speech, after touching 1.304, their highest level since Dec 15, earlier in the session.

New York Fed President William Dudley, among the most influential US central bankers, said overnight on CNN that the case for tightening monetary policy "has become a lot more compelling" since Mr Trump's election.

US 10-year Treasury yields rose to 2.4221, after touching a session high of 2.4260 on Wednesday.

Traders now see a better than 62 per cent chance of a rate increase in March from the current level of 0.5 to 0.75 per cent, a surge from 31 per cent earlier, according to CME Group's FedWatch tool.

The sharp shift came despite disappointing US fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth, as downward revisions to business and government investment offset robust consumer spending.

Data releases later in the session include German unemployment for February, and US personal consumption expenditure, inflation and manufacturing activity.

In commodities, oil prices inched higher as supply cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries offset concerns about rising US crude inventories.

US crude rose almost 0.2 per cent to US$54.10 a barrel.

Global benchmark Brent LCOc1 jumped 1.9 per cent to US$56.64.

The stronger US dollar weighed on gold, which slumped 0.5 per cent to 1,242.30 an ounce, extending Tuesday's 0.3 per cent decline.