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Asia shares edge higher as Biden unveils $1.9 trillion US stimulus plan

SHANGHAI/NEW YORK: Asian shares edged up near record highs on Friday after US President-elect Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan to jump-start the world’s largest economy and accelerate its response to COVID-19.

In prime-time remarks, Biden outlined a proposal that includes $415 billion aimed at the COVID-19 response, some $1 trillion in direct relief to households, and roughly $440 billion for small businesses and communities hard hit by the pandemic.

Global stocks had initially firmed on Thursday on a report that the stimulus package could be as big as $2 trillion, much more than markets were expecting.

Biden’s comments came after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a dovish tone in comments at a virtual symposium with Princeton University.

Powell said the US central bank is not raising interest rates anytime soon and rejected suggestions the Fed might start reducing its bond purchases in the near term.

“It’s pretty clear that there’s going to be significant stimulus. The vaccines are being rolled out, so you’re going to significant stimulus in a kind of recovery scenario. That is very bullish for risk assets, particularly as it’s unlikely that interest rates will be rising anytime soon,” said Michael Frazis, portfolio manager at Frazis Capital Partners in Sydney.

Read more: Biden to unveil plan to pump $1.5 trillion into pandemic-hit economy

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.1% around midday in Asia, just off a record high. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.32%, while Australia’s ASX 200 rose 0.17%.

Japan’s Nikkei was down 0.21% after touching three-decade highs in the previous session, Chinese blue-chips lost nearly 1% amid worries over rising COVID-19 cases in the country.

The gains in Asia followed a late dip on Wall Street on Thursday. While US stocks spent most of the trading session in positive territory, helped by the stimulus hopes, concerns over the cost of the package led to a modest decline toward the end of Wall Street trade.

S&P 500 e-mini futures turned lower on Friday after Biden’s remarks and were last down 0.222% at 3,783.

“The concern is what it’s going to mean from a tax stand point,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.

“Spending is easy to do but the question is how are you going to pay for it? Markets often ignore politics but they don’t often ignore taxes.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.22%, the S&P 500 lost 0.38%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.12%.

On Friday, earnings season will kick into full swing with results from JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. Investors will be looking to see if banks are starting to take down credit reserves, resume buybacks, and provide guidance that shows the economy is improving, said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York.

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