Asian markets mostly up ahead of US jobs, PM move boosts Tokyo

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Most markets rose in Asia on Friday following another record close on Wall Street ahead of US jobs data, while Tokyo led gains on hopes for fresh stimulus after Japan's prime minister said he would step down.

The broad advance came at the end of a strong week as concerns about the fast-spreading Delta variant, which weighed on confidence for much of August, gave way to optimism over the recovery outlook.

Data showing fewer people than expected applied for jobless benefits in the United States last week -- the lowest since March 2020 -- provided a positive lead ahead of the non-farm payrolls, which could have a huge bearing on the Federal Reserve's plans for tapering its ultra-loose monetary policy.

Fed boss Jerome Powell last week indicated that the bank would take it easy in winding down the financial support -- and would be even more careful in lifting interest rates - but offered no timetable for doing so. Observers say a strong jobs reading would likely mean the Fed would move sooner than later.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq on Wall Street finished at fresh records after the figures, and the buying filtered through to Asia.

Tokyo jumped more than two percent after Yoshihide Suga said he will not run for his ruling party's leadership, effectively ending his tenure as premier and throwing wide open the race to succeed him.

Analysts said the gains were fuelled by hopes the next leader will push for a huge spending package to support the virus-hit economy. Suga's rival in the race for the post last year, Fumio Kishida, on Thursday called for tens of trillions of yen in spending to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Sydney, Seoul, Wellington, Taipei, Manila, Mumbai, Bangkok and Jakarta also rose.

But Hong Kong and Shanghai fell, with tech firms hurt by Alibaba's donation of more than $15 billion to charitable causes after Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the rich to do more to tackle inequality.

Alibaba, which has been a key target of Beijing's drive against high-flying tech firms, said it would put the money to "common prosperity" schemes.

But the firm's share price sank more than three percent in Hong Kong on Friday owing to worries about its bottom line.

And Castor Pang at Core Pacific Yamaichi International HK warned: "The donation doesn't guarantee that there will not be more regulations to target at Alibaba.

"It's more or less affecting the whole tech sector sentiment today."

Meanwhile, analysts said a speech by Xi on Thursday announcing plans for a new stock exchange in Beijing for small and medium-sized enterprises had suggested he remained supportive of the role of markets in the country's development.

Despite the general advance on markets this week, fuelled by a general consensus that the global economy will continue to recover from the pandemic, there remains a sense of caution.

"Historically, September is a weak month for equities, particularly in the US, and some investor caution is natural given elevated valuation multiples and a challenging macro environment," said Lewis Grant at Federated Hermes.

"The Delta variant continues to soften consumer confidence across the world. Concerns over parts shortages and supply chain frictions have not eased. Afghanistan reminds us how quickly geopolitical risks can appear, while Hurricane Ida demonstrates our vulnerability in the face of increasingly common extreme weather events."

He said Friday's figures would be "likely to see a return to the 'bad news is good news' attitude, with a worse-than-expected slowdown in the US labour market likely to send stocks higher in anticipation of continued stimulus".

London and Frankfurt opened flat while Paris dipped.

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