ASIA MARKETS: Australian Stocks At Best Levels In A Decade As Asia-Pacific Region Posts Broad Gains

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Most Asia-Pacific stocks traded higher Tuesday as changes to the U.S. tax code inched closer to completion, helping send Australia's benchmark to 10-year highs.

Indexes in Japan and South Korea, meanwhile, steadied after giving up early gains.

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The Nikkeiinitially rose as much as 0.4%, and Korea's Kospijumped 0.7%, but both were lower on the day an hour into trading.

The Nikkei ended morning trading up 0.04%, while the Kospi was recently down 0.2% despite another 1.1% rebound for South Korean technology giant Samsung Electronics Co.(005930.SE) .

Australia's S&P/ASX 200was recently up 0.6%, helped by a more than 1% rise by mining stocks and oil-related companies, despite little movement for crude prices.

Australian stocks are trading near historic highs on a forward price-to-earnings basis.

But further gains for the market--which has lagged behind advances seen elsewhere in the region this year--will depend upon rising earnings forecasts for the mining and industrial sectors, according to Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Markets.

"When the market is this expensive ... you've got to ask yourself, 'What's going to be the earnings driver to push us up from here?' " he said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng indexreturned to positive territory for December with this morning's 0.7% gain. Similar gains were being logged by mainland equities in China, and New Zealand's stock benchmark was on pace for another record closing high.

The Dow Jones Industrial Averagehit its 70th record close of the year and the Nasdaq Compositerose above 7,000 intraday for the first time ahead of voting in the U.S. Congress on the Republican tax bill (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/here-are-the-winners-and-losers-of-the-final-version-of-the-republican-tax-bill-2017-12-18) that is slated to begin later Tuesday.

The Bank of Japan begins a two-day meeting on Wednesday and the Federal Reserve is moving markets.

Treasury yields rose Monday after San Francisco Fed President John Williams, who will votes on the central bank's rate-setting committee next year, said the U.S. economy had "very good momentum" and the passage of tax reform hasn't changed the central bank's economic forecasts.

But Minneapolis Fed chief Neel Kashkari, who voted against rate increases this year, warned Monday that the central bank could raise rates too quickly, driving the U.S. economy into recession.

Analysts in Asia were relaxed about prospects of the Fed upsetting gains for emerging markets. "We are not too concerned about Fed rate hikes," said Aninda Mitra, sovereign analyst at BNY Mellon Investment Management. "Two hikes in 2018 are largely priced in, and an extra hike or two will not prove too destabilizing" for emerging markets.

Elsewhere, bitcoin prices remained in the $18,500 to $19,000 range after initial weakness following the day-earlier start of CME futures trading. The cryptocurrencywas recently around $18,800, according to an index from CoinDesk.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 18, 2017 23:22 ET (04:22 GMT)