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Asian markets enjoyed healthy gains on Monday over murmurs that the US Federal Reserve may loosen its monetary tightening but stocks in Hong Kong and China were muted after Beijing announced its lowest economic growth target in decades.
Traders in Tokyo appeared bullish about positive news flowing in from the United States, where Wall Street had rallied on Friday. An end-of-week slide in Treasury bond yields fortified beliefs the Federal Reserve was nearing the end of its rate-hiking cycle.
The Nikkei 225 jumped more than one percent, with similar gains posted in Taipei, Seoul and Sydney.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is set to discuss monetary policy before the House and Senate committees on Tuesday, proceedings that will be scrutinised by investors angling for positive interest rate news.
"Most important will be whether the Chair takes the opportunity to express a preference for sticking with a 25bp (basis points) hike in March or if he leaves the door ajar for returning to a faster pace this month," said Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management.
"If Powell does not slam the door shut on the potential for a larger hike, markets could put substantially more weight on a 50bp hike at the March meeting in response to last month's hotter data."
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Traders are also awaiting US payroll data on Friday and the Bank of Japan's two-day policy meeting from Thursday, which will be the last for governor Haruhiko Kuroda.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index nudged up after a slow start, edging slightly higher towards the end of the trading day. Shenzhen also recovered to end flat, while Shanghai closed a shade lower after the uninspiring economic news from Beijing.
Outgoing Premier Li Keqiang announced an "around 5 percent" growth figure on Sunday, slightly below what analysts had predicted, as China's annual National People's Congress opened in Beijing.
The world's second-largest economy posted just three percent growth last year, missing its stated target of around 5.5 percent by a wide margin as the economy strained under the impact of strict Covid-19 containment policies and a property crisis.
But Li maintained a positive tone in his hour-long speech.
"China's economy is staging a steady recovery and demonstrating vast potential and momentum for further growth," he said.
China would aim to create "around 12 million new urban jobs" this year and bring the urban unemployment rate to around 5.5 percent, Li said.
Analysts say more revelations towards the end of the NPC could bolster markets as China looks to silence scepticism around its economic recovery.
"A key issue to watch in the next few months is how new leaders will boost private sector confidence. This is more important than the fiscal and monetary policies," Zhiwei Zhang, president and chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, told Bloomberg News.
"The growth target came in at the lower end of the market expectation but should be taken as a floor that the government is willing to tolerate," he said.
News from China, the world's largest oil importer, also brought down the price of crude, which had surged last week.
Analysts expect prices to fluctuate in the near term.
"China's weaker-than-expected growth target set over the weekend may still keep oil prices choppy, with eyes also on any possibility of hawkish remarks from Chair Powell this week," Charu Chanana of Saxo Capital Markets told Bloomberg.
Key figures around 0725 GMT
Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.2 percent at 20,617.52
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 1.1 percent at 28,237.78 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3322.03 (close)
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0649 from $1.0635
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2034 from $1.2046
Euro/pound: UP at 88.48 pence from 88.32 pence
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 135.65 yen from 135.83 yen
West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.7 percent at $79.11 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.8 percent at $85.18 per barrel
New York - Dow: UP 1.2 percent at 33,390.97 (close)
London - FTSE 100: UP less than 0.1 percent at 7,947.11 (close)
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