GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares hit a record high after Yellen calls for big spending

Hideyuki Sano
·3 min read

* MSCI ex-Japan Asia gains almost 1%, Nasdaq futures up on Netflix

* Investors bullish after Yellen supports big spending

* White House power transition seen smooth, underpinning mood

* European shares seen mixed

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Asian shares climbed to a record high on Wednesday after U.S. Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen advocated for a hefty fiscal relief package to help the world's largest economy ride out a pandemic-driven slump.

At her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, she said the benefits of a big stimulus package are greater than the expenses of a higher debt burden.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn into office on Wednesday, last week laid out a $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal to boost the economy and speed up the distribution of vaccines.

"There will be a large-scale fiscal spending. The Fed is seeking to achieve two percent inflation and full employment, which still look distant, so it will keep interest rates low for some time and market sentiment should remain robust," said Yoshinori Shigemi, macro strategist at Fidelity International.

MSCI's Asia-Pacific index outside Japan rose 0.81% , reaching its highest level ever.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.0% to edge near its 2019 peak while Australian shares added 0.4%, reaching a record high . Japan's Nikkei, however, slipped 0.45% on profit-taking.

European stocks are seen mixed, with euro stoxx 50 futures flat and Britain's FTSE futures up 0.3%.

The U.S. Nasdaq futures gained 0.5%, with Netflix shares jumping 12.2% after the bell as the streaming pioneer reported strong growth in subscribers and projected it will no longer need to raise debt.

The results came after all three major Wall Street indexes posted solid gains on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in a farewell address released on Tuesday, touted his legacy and wished luck to the new administration even though he steered clear of acknowledging his successor by name.

Biden will take office on Wednesday under unprecedented security measures after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

"The transition will likely be smooth and hassle-free, so that's another reason supporting markets overall," said Yasutada Suzuki, head of emerging markets investment at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

In the currency market, the dollar was on the back foot against other currencies.

The euro stood at $1.2148, up 0.15% and off Monday's 1 1/2-month low of $1.2054, drawing support from a ZEW investor sentiment survey that beat forecasts and the Italian government surviving a confidence vote.

The yen was little moved at 103.81 to the dollar while the Chinese yuan ticked up about 0.1% to 6.4741 per dollar .

Gold jumped 0.64% to $1,852.0 per ounce but bitcoin lost 1.28% to $35,458, in a consolidation after its meteoric rise until early this month.

Oil prices rose on hopes that Biden's proposed stimulus will lift economic output.

U.S. crude futures inched up 0.3% to $53.15 a barrel while international benchmark Brent futures rose 0.3% to $56.09 per barrel.

"The ongoing economic recovery, near-term headwinds relating to the virus aside, will be further supported by increased fiscal spending," said Brendan Mulhern, strategist for the BNY Mellon Global Real Return Strategy at Newton Investment Management.

"The continued acceleration of nominal income growth will ensure a continued sharp recovery in activity which will serve as a further tailwind for cyclical parts of the market, in particular materials and energy."

(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore; editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Stephen Coates)