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Asian shares hit decade highs, Catalan fears ease

[SYDNEY] Asian shares jumped to the highest in a decade on Wednesday as Wall Street scaled all-time highs, while the US dollar loitered around two-week lows on worries President Donald Trump's tax plan could stall.

The euro traded around a 10-day peak after Catalonia's leader suspended plans to leave Spain, easing near-term concerns about euro zone stability.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan climbed 0.5 per cent to 546.38, a level not seen since December 2007.

Australian stocks jumped to 1-1/2 month highs while South Korea's Kospi added 0.6 per cent to within a whisker of record peaks.

Japan's Nikkei edged closer to a 21-month top, even as scandal-hit Kobe Steel extended losses.

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Sentiment was boosted after the International Monetary Fund upgraded its global economic growth forecast for 2017 and 2018, driven by a pickup in trade, investment, and consumer confidence.

"A risk-on mood has set in and money is flowing out of bond funds into equities funds," said Hugh Dive, chief investment officer at Atlas Funds Management.

"One of the biggest drivers of global equities is the United States and some of the macro data coming out from there has been quite positive. There is also this view that China is travelling much better than many people had expected."

The three major Wall Street indices set record highs again, with Dow up 0.3 per cent, the S&P 500 adding 0.2 per cent and the Nasdaq inching 0.1 per cent higher.

In currency markets, the US dollar held around a two-week trough as US President Donald Trump's escalating war of words with Senator Bob Corker raised concerns about the administration's ability to pass promised reforms.

The US dollar index steadied at 93.314 against a basket of currencies, around the lowest level since Sept 29.


The greenback was also under pressure amid ongoing uncertainty over the next Federal Reserve Chairman, with the predictions market site, PredictIt, favouring Fed governor Jerome Powell as the most likely candidate.

While Mr Powell is regarded as more hawkish than incumbent Janet Yellen, whose term expires in February, analysts say he might be less aggressive in winding back stimulus than Kevin Warsh, another possible candidate for the role.

Investors will keep an eye on the minutes of the Fed's September meeting due later in the day, which might help bolster views of a December rate hike.

The euro held around US$1.1803, not far from Tuesday's high of US$1.1825, after Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont called for talks with Madrid to discuss the region's future.

The gesture tempered fears of immediate unrest in a major euro zone economy and cheered investors. Madrid's Ibex 35 Index futures added 1.1 per cent, after the cash Ibex stock index closed down 0.9 per cent on Tuesday.

"Markets were on edge, and no doubt so was he," said David Plank, head of Australian economics at ANZ Banking Group, referring to Puigdemont's address at Catalonia's parliament.

"But the declaration for independence did not come, at least not explicitly," Mr Plank said.

"This issue remains extremely fluid. But one thing is clear - this is not going to go away quickly or quietly."

In commodities, US crude rose 12 cents to US$51.04 per barrel and Brent added 7 cents to US$56.68 on signs of tighter near-term supply.

Gold prices came off their highest in two weeks, with spot gold at US$1,287.61 an ounce.


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