Asia shares relieved by Powell pick, await US jobs test

US President Donald J. Trump shakes hands with Jerome Powell after announcing him as his nominee for Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
US President Donald J. Trump shakes hands with Jerome Powell after announcing him as his nominee for Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Asian share markets edged higher on Friday (Nov 3) as investors gave a guarded reception to Republican plans for massive US tax cuts, while welcoming the appointment of a centrist at the helm of the Federal Reserve.

Apple's stock reached new heights after it forecast holiday sales would beat market expectations, a likely positive for its many suppliers scattered across Asia.

A holiday in Japan kept volumes light, while investors observed the usual caution ahead of the US payrolls report which is expected to show a big bounce back from September's hurricane-hit result.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.14 per cent, to near its highest since late 2007. Australia's main index firmed 0.5 per cent, while South Korea added 0.3 per cent.

News that Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell would be the new head of the US central bank was well flagged, but still something of a relief.

"He is seen as very much the continuity candidate, he hasn't dissented in his time as a Fed Governor and his thinking is seen as very much allied to the status quo data-driven style at the Fed," said David de Garis, a director of economics at NAB.

In Washington, House Republicans finally unveiled long-delayed plans for deep tax cuts that President Donald Trump has promised, setting off a frantic race in Congress to give him his first major legislative victory.

Passage of legislation that mainly favours corporations and the wealthy was far from certain, and some business groups quickly came out against it.

"The tax package will undergo several re-writes and given the contentious debate on day one the final version is likely to be delayed and will be smaller in scope," said Richard Franulovich, an economist at Westpac.

"The market reaction to the tax plan details has been equally lukewarm."

While the Dow rose 0.35 per cent on the back of banking shares, the S&P 500 added just 0.02 per cent and the Nasdaq eased 0.02 per cent.

Housing stocks also slid amid concerns over the tax plan's cap on deductions for mortgages.

Currency investors were equally underwhelmed, leaving the US dollar flat against most peers as Treasury yields dipped. Against a basket of currencies it was stuck at 94.672 after a week of narrow range-trading.

It was also steady on the yen at 114.00 having repeatedly failed to break resistance in the 114.28/45 zone.

Not so steady was sterling, which took a hammering overnight when the Bank of England hiked rates for the first time in a decade but said further moves would be "very gradual".

The pound suffered its largest single day slide against the euro since October last year and was last huddled at 89.28 pence. On the US dollar it was down at US$1.3055, having shed 1.45 per cent on Thursday.

In commodity markets, spot gold was up 0.2 per cent at US$1,278.88 an ounce, after touching the highest since Oct 20 at US$1,284.10.

Oil prices edged back up toward recent two-year highs as OPEC-led output cuts tightened supplies and drained inventories.

Brent crude gained 24 cents to US$60.86 per barrel. The benchmark hit US$61.70 on Wednesday, its highest since July 2015. US crude added 36 cents to US$54.90, almost 30 per cent above its June lows.