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Wednesday August 4th, 2021 1:59AM

Asia shares up ahead of China holiday, presidential debate

By The Associated Press
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TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly higher in muted trading Monday, ahead of the first U.S. presidential debate and a national holiday in China later in the week.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.7% to 23,371.70, while South Korea's Kospi added 1.5% to 2,312.96. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained nearly 0.2% to 5,973.70. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.5% to 23,349.80, while the Shanghai Composite index was little changed at 3,217.87.

China is celebrating Mid-Autumn Day Oct. 1, followed by a weeklong holiday through Oct. 8.

China's statistical bureau reported Sunday that industrial profits rose 19% in August from a year earlier, as the economy recovered from the pandemic downturn.

Regional markets are seeing signs of improvement in economic activity despite the coronavirus pandemic, as businesses strive to achieve a new normal with social distancing and mask-wearing.

Investors are hoping for additional fiscal stimulus measures from the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she hopes to find common ground for agreement with Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin after the $2.4 trillion package under discussion failed to bridge the divide.

The chamber passed a $3.4 trillion rescue measure in May. Democrats cut their ambitions back by $1 trillion or so, while Senate Republicans have focused on a much smaller package in the $650 billion to $1 trillion range.

Bridging the overall topline gulf would be tough. Working out hundreds of legislative details just before the November election, amid a feud over filling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court could be impossible. But there is pressure on both sides to do something to help the economy and the tens of millions of voters left unemployed thanks to the pandemic.

Also on investors' minds is the first presidential debate, set for Tuesday, between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. It could influence the course of U.S. policies likely to affect share prices across the board.

“Heightened volatility appeared to have been the case as growth and U.S. election concerns mounted,” said Jingyi Pan, market strategist with IG in Singapore.

Wall Street shares finished solidly higher Friday, led by gains in technology and health care companies, although the S&P 500 still posted its fourth straight weekly loss, extending the market's September swoon.

The S&P 500 rose 1.6% to 3,298.46, flip-flopping between small gains and losses a few times in the early going. Stocks have been erratic this month, with indexes setting new highs to start the month and then falling sharply as investors worried that values for some of technology giants had risen too high.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.3% to 27,173.96. The Nasdaq composite climbed 2.3%, to 10,913.56. And the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks picked up 1.6%, to 1,474.91.

In energy trading, U.S. benchmark crude slipped 15 cents to $40.10 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 14 cents to $41.78 a barrel.

The U.S. dollar inched down to 105.39 Japanese yen from 105.57 yen on Friday. The euro cost $1.1634, little changed from $1.1632.

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