Stocks and sterling pin hopes on Brexit, regulator probe stings Alibaba By Reuters

© Reuters. People wearing protective face masks look at a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo

By Stanley White and John McCrank

TOKYO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian shares and the British pound rose on Thursday ahead of the Christmas break, as Britain and the European Union closed in on a free-trade deal and investors placed bets on global economic recovery prospects.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.45%. Australian stocks ended 0.33% higher, while Tokyo shares rose 0.45%.

Chinese stocks fell 0.28%.

Alibaba (NYSE:) Group Holding Ltd shares slumped 8.13%, its biggest daily drop in six weeks, after China’s market regulator said it will investigate the tech giant for suspected monopolistic behaviour.

U.S. stock futures edged up by 0.16%.

futures were up 0.56%. were up 1.15%, while German rose 1.28%, pointing to a bright start to the European session.

Investors cheered news that Britain and the European Union were on the cusp of striking a narrow trade deal on Thursday that would help them avoid a turbulent economic rupture on New Year’s Day.

Hopes for more fiscal spending and expectations that coronavirus vaccines will become more available next year also supported global equities.

“A pro-risk and weak dollar theme dominated markets on optimism regarding vaccines, U.S. and UK fiscal stimulus, and Brexit, with hope an agreement on the latter can be reached before Christmas,” ANZ Bank analysts wrote in a research memo.

The potential for a Brexit deal boosted sterling, which rose 0.47% to $1.3558. The pound edged up to 90.05 pence per euro.

The pound also drew support after France lifted its ban on freight coming from Britain, which it had enacted in response to a more contagious coronavirus variant in Britain.

MSCI’s gauge of global stocks was up 0.12%, but moves were subdued in thin holiday trading.

Alibaba, co-founded by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, was the stock to watch in Asia on Thursday as Chinese authorities stepped up their campaign against big technology companies.

Separately, Ant Group, the mobile payments and consumer credit arm of Ma’s tech empire, said it will comply with all regulatory requirements after China’s financial watchdogs said they will conduct regulatory talks with it in coming days.

Last month, China halted Ant Group’s $37 billion dual-listing initial public offering, crushing what would have been the world’s largest stock market debut.

Wall Street ended mostly higher on Wednesday, with the closing up 0.38% and the edging 0.07% higher. The declined 0.29%.

A raft of mixed U.S. economic data showed lower jobless claims and an uptick in new orders for durable goods, but also a pullback in consumer spending, falling personal income and fading sentiment as the holiday shopping season nears its end amid a resurgent pandemic.

Investors largely shrugged off comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that a nearly $900 billion stimulus bill, agreed upon after months of wrangling in Congress, was “a disgrace” that he might not sign.

“Risk-on sentiment is guiding markets so far today and it appears to be weighted more toward possible optimism toward a Brexit deal and the cherry-picked parts of U.S. releases, rather than Trump’s reckless antics over signing the stimulus and funding bill,” said Derek Holt, head of capital markets Economics at Scotiabank.

futures rose 38 cents to $51.58 a barrel by 0530 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude increased 31 cents to $48.43, buoyed by a drawdown in U.S. stockpiles and a potential Brexit trade deal.

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