Asia markets rise but dealers on edge

Hong Kong (AFP) - Most Asian markets rose Thursday but traders remain cautious about the global outlook, with another record close on Wall Street providing some support but Tokyo hit by a stronger yen.

The uncertainty that has tainted trading floors for weeks continues to weigh as Donald Trump appears to press on with a protectionist agenda but provides no details on his pledge to ramp up the US economy and cut red tape.

The dollar has been a major casualty as dealers withdraw initial bets that his big-spending plans would stoke US inflation, and in turn, interest rates. The greenback has fallen around five percent from this year's highs against the yen.

On Thursday the US unit was sitting around 112 yen, having fallen below that level for the first time since November.

However, the dollar remains buoyed against the euro as the rise of populists ahead of elections this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy fuel worries about the future of the European Union. Added to that is the prospect of a return to the Greek debt crisis.

In share trading Tokyo ended 0.5 percent lower, hit by a stronger yen.

However, Sydney closed up 0.2 percent and Singapore gained 0.5 percent while Seoul also edged up.

Hong Kong added 0.2 percent and Shanghai put on 0.5 percent by the close.

- Abe to meet Trump -

In New York the Nasdaq ended at a record high for the second successive day, while the Dow closed above 20,000 despite ending slightly lower.

But while US markets are pushing on, Asian dealers are more concerned about the new US president's anti-globalisation rhetoric, which has fuelled fears of a trade war.

"The Trump trade is the primary focus for equity markets and without any further guidance on US tax policies, investors stay on the sidelines, annoyed and concerned about the unknown," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, in a note.

Investors will be closely watching this weekend's meeting between Trump and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in which they will discuss trade and other issues.

"With the US-Japan meeting coming up, investors are taking more of a wait-and-see stance," Shunichi Otsuka, general manager of research and strategy at Ichiyoshi Securities, told Bloomberg News.

But OANDA's Innes warned: "The event risk is clearly the downside, if this meeting does not go well as on trade negotiations."

Gold prices extended their recent gains as nervous traders move into safer assets as a hedge against volatility. The precious metal climbed more than $3 to $1,240, and is up eight percent since the start of the year.

In early European trade London added 0.2 percent, Frankfurt gained 0.3 percent and Paris was 0.6 percent higher.

- Key figures around 0800 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 18,907.67 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 23,525.14 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.5 percent at 3,183.18 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,203.23

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0678 from $1.0696

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2504 from $1.2541

Dollar/yen: UP at 112.18 yen from 111.95 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 23 cents at $52.57 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 26 cents at $55.38

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 20,054.34 (close)