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GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian markets start on firm footing on vaccine, U.S. aid hopes

Swati Pandey
·3 mins read

* Asian stock markets : https://tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4

* MSCI ex-Japan up 0.26%, Nikkei climbs about 1%

* Pfizer could have coronavirus vaccine ready by end-2020

* Pelosi optimistic of U.S. fiscal aid before Nov elections

* Currencies tread water, oil slightly higher

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Asian markets started higher on Monday, buoyed by hopes of a U.S fiscal package before the U.S. presidential elections next month and expectations of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year, though the mood was still cautious as infections jump.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.26% for its second straight day of gains.

The index has risen in eight of the last 10 sessions amid a rally in risk assets buoyed by hopes of a coronavirus vaccine and expectations of a so called "blue wave", which would see the Democrats claim victory in November's elections.

Boosting overall sentiment, drugmaker Pfizer Inc said on Friday it could have a coronavirus vaccine ready in the United States by the end of this year.

Japan's Nikkei climbed about 1% while South Korea's KOSPI and Australian shares were up 0.7% each.

New Zealand was a tad lower after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a second term at elections over the weekend, having risen over the week in anticipation of such a result.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 jumped 0.5% in early Asian trading after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday she was optimistic legislation on a wide-ranging coronavirus relief package could be pushed through before the election.

But with her negotiating partner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in the Middle East until Tuesday, such a timeframe would seem to be overly optimistic, analysts said.

Investors are also concerned about rising coronavirus cases to help curb the spread of the disease.

Global coronavirus cases rose by more than 400,000 for the first time late on Friday, a record one-day increase as much of Europe enacts new restrictions to curb the outbreak.

Investors now await China's third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP), monthly production and retail sales due later in the Asia morning.

"Chinese growth has bounced back well from its early COVID-19 losses and this data will be key to identify how the economy has progressed," said Steven Dooley, chief strategist at Western Union Business Solutions.

Later in the week, key events include minutes of Australia's central bank meeting, the final U.S. presidential debate and global manufacturing indicators.

Action in currencies was muted with the U.S. dollar, usually perceived as a safe-haven asset, flat at 93.696 against a basket of six major currencies.

The euro was also unchanged at $1.1715.

Sterling traded near two-week lows at $1.2925 after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told businesses to get ready for a no-deal Brexit in case negotiations with the European Union fail to produce a free trade agreement.

"EU-UK trade talks are flirting with collapse," ANZ economists said.

"UK Prime Minister Johnson said the UK needs to prepare for a no-deal outcome, as both sides cannot agree on a Canada-style FTA. Talks resume in London on Monday, but without the political willingness to shift ground, there is little the negotiators can achieve."

In commodities, Brent crude futures added 5 cents to $42.98 a barrel, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures climbed 5 cents to $40.9 a barrel.

Spot gold was a shade firmer at $1,899.9 an ounce.

(Editing by Sam Holmes)