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GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks set for soft start, dollar mostly steady

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Alwyn Scott
·3 min read
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* Dollar steady in advance of Fed meeting Tuesday-Wednesday

* Global stocks mixed on uncertain outlook for U.S. stimulus

* Europe shares tumble on expected weak German, French GDP

By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Asian stocks came under pressure on Tuesday as worries about U.S. stimulus and surging coronavirus infections led to a mixed Wall Street session, while the dollar consolidated overnight gains.

The choppy trade reflected concerns about new strains of the deadly virus, along with uncertainty about the $1.9 trillion U.S. fiscal stimulus plan that has hit opposition from Republicans in Congress.

Those factors tempered earlier optimism stoked by the roll-out of vaccines and anticipation that new U.S. stimulus would give the world economy a much-needed fiscal shot in the arm.

Jarrod Kerr, chief economist at Kiwibank in Wellington, New Zealand said equities also were now taking a breather after a strong bull run last week, but noted sentiment was still upbeat.

"Risk appetite has clearly improved," Kerr said. "Central banks and governments need to keep their foot on the accelerator."

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 were flat early in the Asian day. Japan's Nikkei opened down 0.4% and New Zealand's was 0.5% lower. The Australian dollar rose 0.04% versus the greenback at $0.771. Australian stock markets were closed for a national public holiday.

Fourth-quarter GDP data for the United States, Germany and France due out this week may cool sentiment. U.S. policymakers are expected to keep the monetary spigot open when the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee meets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wall Street stocks were mixed on Monday with the Nasdaq index adding 0.69% and hitting a record high on hopes of bumper earnings later this week from mega-cap technology companies. The S&P 500 gained 0.36%, however, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index slipped 0.12%.

Earlier, European shares closed at two-week lows as a slump in German business morale underscored the damage from tighter COVID-19 restrictions.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index reversed early gains and finished 0.8% lower. The German DAX fell 1.7%, France CAC 40 was down 1.6% and the UK's FTSE 100 declined 0.8%.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 nations, rose 0.2%.

All eyes were on Washington as U.S. lawmakers agreed that getting COVID-19 vaccines to Americans should be a priority even as they locked horns over the size of the pandemic relief package.

Financial markets have been eyeing a massive package, though disagreements have meant months of indecision in a country suffering more than 175,000 COVID-19 cases a day with millions out of work.

"The immediate question now is when stimulus aid will be approved and how much?" asked Christopher Grisanti, chief equity strategist at MAI Capital Management.

The dollar advanced to a near one-week high against a basket of currencies, as volatility in stock markets around the globe sapped investors' appetite for riskier currencies.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback versus a basket of six currencies, rose 0.12 points or 0.1%, to 90.358. The euro was last down 0.3% at $1.2140.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Sam Holmes)