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Japan Nikkei, Australia stocks, currencies in focus

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Asian markets mostly rose on Monday after the U.S.’s S&P 500 extended its winning streak on Friday to six days. Markets in the Greater China region remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 428.96 points, or 1.97 percent, to 22,149.21, while the Topix index added 37.78 points, or 2.17 percent, to 1,775.15. South Korea’s Kospi index added 20.99 points, or 0.87 percent, to 2,442.82.

Meanwhile, Australia’s ASX 200 reversed early losses to finish up 37.6 points, or 0.64 percent, at 5,941.6. The heavily weighted financial subindex rose 0.56 percent, while the energy sector fell 1.26 percent and the materials subindex reversed losses to climb 0.23 percent.

Oil stocks in Australia traded mixed. Shares of Santos rose 2.58 percent, Oil Search was up 2.02 percent and Beach Energy added 7.11 percent. Woodside Petroleum declined 6.85 percent, however, after the company said it completed the institutional component of its 2.5 billion Australian dollar ($1.98 billion) share sale, announced on Feb. 14. Woodside raised gross proceeds of about A$1.57 billion at A$27 per new share.

Major indexes in the U.S. had ended off their session highs on Friday after news broke that special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Meanwhile, in the currency market, the Japanese yen traded at 106.57 to the dollar at 2:24 p.m. HK/SIN, coming off an earlier high of 106.08. Still, the yen had strengthened from levels above 108 in the previous week. Major export stocks traded up, with Toyota shares climbing 2.37 percent, Honda up 2.04 percent and Sony adding 0.78 percent.

The Australian dollar traded at $0.7916 at 2:25 p.m. HK/SIN, falling from levels near $0.7980 reached last week.

Elsewhere, the dollar index remained relatively stable and traded at 89.127 at 2:26 p.m. HK/SIN, coming off an earlier high of 89.175. Last week, the index fell from levels above 90 to near 88.200 before recovering slightly.

“The U.S. dollar staged a minor comeback for no obvious reason other than position squaring into the U.S. holiday weekend, with euro leading the move and yen lagging but still managing to fully recoup the APAC session swoon to end marginally weaker on the day,” Ray Attrill, head of foreign exchange strategy at the National Bank of Australia, wrote in a morning note.

He pointed out that for the week, the dollar was still lower in index terms with losses led by the yen strength.

The U.S. market will be closed on Monday for Presidents Day.

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Armin Laschet picked as new leader of Germany’s ruling CDU party 

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Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, Armin Laschet, gestures as he takes part in a discussion at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on Jan. 8, 2021.

CHRISTIAN MANG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

FRANKFURT, Germany — Germany’s ruling CDU party picked Armin Laschet to be its new chairman on Saturday, possibly paving the way for him to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor at elections later this year. 

Laschet is currently the prime minister of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region, the most populous federal state in the country. He beat rival Friedrich Merz by 521 to 466 in a vote that was forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Born in 1961, he was first elected to the Bundestag (German Parliament) in 1994 and his election is seen as a continuation of Merkel’s policies, as he has pledged to keep the CDU firmly in the “middle of society.” 

With him as chairman, the CDU will likely stay on message and focus on more climate change policies and environmental topics. He has a strong Catholic background which brings him support from Christian circles within the party. 

He is a trained lawyer and also worked as a journalist at the time of German reunification between 1986 and 1991. He is seen as being very liberal and is popular with the immigrant community in his home state.

If he becomes the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at September’s elections, he could be open to various coalitions — power sharing is somewhat of a recent tradition in German politics.

He has floated the idea of a government alongside the liberals, the FDP, in a bid to win over parts of the business camp inside the CDU. But he is also seen as a natural fit for a coalition with the Greens too, as he is on good speaking terms with the party and favors environmental issues.

But the CDU’s candidate for chancellor will only be determined in the spring. And it’s not certain that the newly-elected chairman will automatically move into Merkel’s role. Markus Söder, the very popular Bavarian prime minister, and also Jens Spahn, the current health minister, may also join the race to lead Europe’s largest economy.

Merkel stepped down as leader of the CDU in 2018, and her replacement Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer quit in February 2020 after a series of communication mishaps exposed her as being too weak to lead the chancellery.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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