Asian stock markets advance; US tax bill, politics in focus

Asian stock markets were mostly higher on Monday, with U.S. politics in focus. Investors are digesting the U.S. Senate's passage of the tax bill and implications of the guilty plea by President Donald Trump's former U.S. national security adviser.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 dipped 0.2 percent to 22,774.38 while South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 2,484.30. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.5 percent to 29,230.85 and the Shanghai Composite Index was flat at 3,318.40. Australia's S&P ASX 200 rose less than 0.1 percent to 5,993.60. Stocks in Southeast Asia were mixed. Singapore stocks fell but the benchmark in Indonesia surged 1 percent.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "The reaction of investors is unpredictable in light of positive market moves ahead of the vote and suggestions that corporate tax cuts are to some extent already priced in," Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, said in a daily commentary. "While the reduction in tax rates is widely viewed as stimulatory, and therefore supportive of higher share prices, the stellar run and record levels of U.S. share indices have some fearing a "sell the fact" reaction.

U.S. WATCH: U.S. politics took central stage for Asian investors at the week's start. On early Saturday, Republicans rammed a nearly $1.5 trillion tax overhaul through the Senate, a sweeping revamp of the nation's tax code that would cut individual rates and slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent beginning 2019. The move reinforces risk-on sentiment, analysts said. Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and said he would cooperate with the probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

DATA WATCH: Investors will be looking at a string of data releases due this week. China will release monthly trade data on Friday and Japan will issue consumer confidence later in the day and its growth figures on Friday. U.S. payrolls data are also due on Friday.

WALL STREET: On Friday, U.S. stocks finished lower. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.2 percent to 2,642.22. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 0.2 percent to 24,231.59 and the Nasdaq composite lost 0.4 percent to 6,847.59. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 0.5 percent, to 1,537.02.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 41 cents to $57.95 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 96 cents, or 1.7 percent, to settle at $58.36 a barrel on Friday. Brent, the international standard, lost 39 cents to $63.34 per barrel in London. It added $1.10, or 1.8 percent, to close at $63.73 a barrel on Friday.

CURRENCIES: The U.S. dollar rose to 112.75 yen from 112.13 yen while the euro weakened to $1.1872 from $1.1896.