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Asia mostly higher as traders digest Trump's address to US Congress

A man cycles past an electric quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo on February 28, 2017.
Behrouz Mehri | AFP | Getty Images
A man cycles past an electric quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo on February 28, 2017.

Asia traded mostly higher Wednesday, following President Donald Trump's address to U.S. lawmakers, which one analyst deemed "high on rhetoric and light on details."

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said the speech left markets a little "underwhelmed."

"I suspect...that most of what has been announced are already built into the price of the dollar today," he said.

The dollar index climbed 0.58 percent to 101.71 at 3:20 p.m. HK/SIN Wednesday from an earlier low of 101.23.

Trump spoke on a variety of topics, including a recap of his efforts to develop a blueprint for corporate tax reform to increase America's competitiveness while also providing tax relief for the middle class.

U.S. futures were up Wednesday afternoon Asia time. The S&P e-mini futures were up 0.21 percent, the Nasdaq e-mini futures gained 0.17 percent and the Dow mini futures were up 0.19 percent.

Read more about Trump's address to Congress here.

Halley said the market's attention will now turn to Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who is scheduled to speak later in the week.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 closed up 274.55 points, or 1.44 percent, at 19,393.54. Japanese export stocks received a boost from a relatively weaker yen that traded at 113.64 to the dollar at 3:12 p.m. HK/SIN after market close, weakening from levels below 112.20.

Among key exporters, Toyota shares rose 1.59 percent, Sony shares were up 1.47 percent and Panasonic added 2.6 percent.

In Australia, the benchmark ASX 200 closed down 7.4 points, or 0.13 percent, at 5,704.8, where the energy sector fell 1.26 percent.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed the country's fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) grew 2.4 percent annually, beating expectations of a 1.9 percent increase by a Reuters poll.

Economists at the National Australia Bank said the solid economic momentum in the GDP figure will likely keep the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) on the sidelines for much of 2017.

"While there is clearly spare capacity in labor and product markets, the RBA aims to balance its inflation and employment objectives against financial stability considerations, particularly given the surge in house prices in key markets in late 2016 amidst already high household debts," the economists said.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was up 0.19 percent in late-afternoon trade. Chinese mainland shares closed up, with the Shanghai composite advancing 4.90 points, or 0.15 percent, to 3,246.63, and the Shenzhen composite gained 7.54 points, or 0.37 percent, to 2,008.86.

The South Korean market was closed for a public holiday.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
---
KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Meanwhile, the possibility of a Fed interest rate hike in March gained further momentum on Tuesday when New York Fed President William Dudley said on CNN International that the "case for monetary tightening has become more compelling." Dudley is viewed as a close ally of Yellen and is a central figure in the Federal Open Market Committee.

"Through its recent communication, the Fed is sending a strong signal for a March hike," said Thomas Julien, a U.S. economist at French investment bank Natixis. "As a result, the implied market probability surged to a level that is high enough to allow the Fed to move at the next meeting without creating a surprise."

Among major currencies, the Australian dollar fell 0.18 percent to $0.7643 at 3:22 p.m. HK/SIN; the euro was down 0.32 percent at $1.0541; and the British pound was lower by 0.17 percent at $1.2359.

The relatively strong dollar also pushed gold lower, with spot gold down 0.45 percent at $1,242.90 per ounce. That moved gold miners in Australia to the downside: Shares of Newcrest fell 1.4 percent and Alacer Gold dropped 4.28 percent.

Oil traded lower, with U.S. crude down 0.3 percent at $53.85 at 3:24 p.m. HK/SIN, while global benchmark Brent slipped 0.23 percent to $56.38 a barrel.