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Asian markets down as global rally takes a break

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets fell Thursday as investors in most countries wound down going into the long Easter break, with positive comments on the China-US trade talks and healthy Chinese growth unable to fire buying activity.

Donald Trump's key trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer is reportedly preparing to visit Beijing at the end of the month for another round of top-level talks aimed at ending the long-running tariffs spat.

The Wall Street Journal story was followed by the president saying he was optimistic the talks would be "successful", and telling reporters there would be an announcement "very, very shortly".

The upbeat developments were the latest to give hope for an end to a row that has dragged on the global economy and contributed to a market sell-off at the end of last year.

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However, investors seemed unmoved, with Wall Street ending down and Asia also in the red on the final day of business before Easter.

OANDA senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley said the fact that markets "continue to bumble along in sideways ranges" indicated "a lot of good news - both present and future - is already baked into prices at these levels".

"Ahead of the extended Easter holidays and into the end of the month, the markets may be much more vulnerable to negative headlines than they have been in recent times."

'HIGH DEGREE OF CAUTION'

World markets have enjoyed a stellar year so far thanks to trade talk hopes as well as a more dovish stance by central banks, led by the Federal Reserve saying it will not lift interest rates this year.

In early trade Hong Kong and Shanghai were each down 0.5 per cent, Seoul shed 0.9 per cent and Singapore eased 0.1 per cent. Tokyo went into the break 0.5 per cent lower.

Wellington and Taipei were also lower, though Sydney was flat.

Jakarta jumped more than one per cent - and the rupiah rose 0.5 per cent - as early polls suggested business-friendly incumbent Joko Widodo was on course to win Indonesia's presidential election.

Oil prices edged down after Wednesday's losses that were fuelled by a smaller than anticipated drop in US inventories and worries the US could extend waivers linked to Iranian sanctions.

"Traders are exercising a high degree of caution as the White House has been very cryptic with regards to policy, which is potentially setting up the catalyst for prices to knee jerk lower if the administration decides to increase Iran waiver limits," said Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management.

"All the while talk of Moscow backing out of (a deal with OPEC to cut output) continues to percolate."

AFP