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Asian stocks approach two-year high on fresh U.S.-China trade hopes

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Renewed confidence in a Sino-U.S. trade deal after talks between the countries helped lift most Asian stocks on Tuesday, as did fresh vaccine hopes for a coronavirus vaccine, which boosted broader sentiment.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.18% and was trading just below a two-year high.

Japan’s Nikkei rose 1.5% while banking stocks led Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 up 0.4%.

The upbeat sentiment in Asia on Tuesday follows reports that top U.S. and Chinese officials see progress in resolving concerns around the Phase 1 trade deal reached between the two countries in January.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement on Tuesday, during a “regularly scheduled call”.

China’s commerce ministry said in a statement there had been “constructive dialogue”, which followed the U.S. Treasury declaring that “both sides see progress”.

“This is consistent with market expectations of the Phase 1 deal staying healthy and likely to hold even as U.S.-China tensions flare up along non-trade dimensions – technology, access to capital, geopolitics,” Citigroup analysts said in a research note.

Bucking the regional rally, however, were Hong Kong and China markets, with the Hang Seng slipping 0.7% in the afternoon session while the Shanghai Composite gave up earlier gains to fall 0.19%.

Ord Minnett investment advisor John Milroy said equities market sentiment remained driven by elevated global liquidity levels.

“The strong rebound in markets continues to be driven by the large amounts of money governments and central banks keep throwing at the system,” Milroy said.

“There is no reason to expect markets to stop anytime soon even in the face of reduced global activity levels. Investors keep looking ahead with markets trading well above historical price to earnings levels.”

Markets have also been supported by broader optimism about medical solutions to end the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. regulators on Sunday authorised the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a treatment option, helping the S&P 500 1% higher to another record close overnight.

Shares of AstraZeneca also rose on a Financial Times report that the U.S. government was considering fast-tracking its experimental vaccine.

That seemed to overshadow a rise in coronavirus cases in Europe and the first documented case of human re-infection with COVID-19, where a man in Hong Kong caught the virus again some four months after first being infected.

In currency markets, the dollar, which has been sensitive to sentiment in equity markets edged higher, defying pressure from a gain in stocks that often leads investors to sell dollars for riskier currencies. [FRX/]

Investors now await a Thursday speech from Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell and expect he might address the future approach to inflation and allow it to run hotter than 2% to make up for years of undershooting.

The dollar also found support from an overnight rise in yields. That kept the euro to $1.18 and the Aussie at $0.7172 in Asian trade.

In commodity markets, oil clung to overnight gains after storms disrupted U.S. production. Brent crude futures firmed in early Asian trade to $45.26 a barrel and U.S. crude dipped to $42.58 a barrel.

The stronger dollar held gold to $1,935.9 an ounce. A light data calendar in Asia has investors looking to Germany’s IFO business survey due at 0800 and U.S. consumer confidence data at 1400 GMT.

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