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Asia shares up as strong Japan data offsets Wall St losses

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A currency gestures as he talks with his colleagues at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. Shares were mostly higher in Asia on Monday as the Bank of Japan's quarterly "tankan" survey showed stronger than expected business sentiment in a further sign the economy is recovering from recession. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Shares rose in Asia on Monday, shrugging off a weak close last week on Wall Street after Japan's central bank reported a strong improvement in business sentiment.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 climbed 0.5% and shares were also higher in Shanghai, Seoul and Sydney. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng declined.

The quarterly “tankan” survey by the Bank of Japan showed business sentiment has improved sharply with expectations for a recovery from a year-long recession.

The main measure of business conditions of large manufacturers rose to minus 10 from minus 27. It showed rebounds in all categories, both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing companies, large and small. It was a marked improvement from the past several quarterly reports as Japan battled the coronavirus pandemic.

The tankan measures corporate sentiment by subtracting the number of companies saying business conditions are negative from those responding they are positive.

The Nikkei picked up 125 points to 26,780.36. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng shed 0.1% to 26,479.46. The Shanghai Composite index rose 0.3% to 3,358.79 and South Korea's Kospi was up less than 0.1% at 2,771.22. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5% to 6,677.50.

U.S. markets ended last week on a downbeat note. Benchmarks pulled further away from their recent highs Friday as prospects for another aid package from Washington faded while a surge in virus cases is threatening to inflict more damage on an already battered economy.

The proposed $900 billion aid package from a bipartisan group of lawmakers has essentially collapsed because of continued partisan bickering.

But President Donald Trump signed a temporary government-wide funding bill into law, averting a federal shutdown at midnight and buying Congress time for the on-again, off-again talks on COVID-19 aid.

“Given these talks have been running since July, the market may be bored to tears, but if the stimulus door slam shut before Christmas, it could still change the positive vaccine mood music," Stephen Innes of Axi said in a commentary.

The S&P 500 slipped 0.1% to 3,663.46, its third-straight decline since it set a record high on Tuesday. It ended the week 1% lower after two weeks of solid gains.

Treasury yields fell broadly, a signal that traders were seeking to lessen their exposure to riskier holdings. On Monday, the yield on the 10-year Treasury was at 0.90%, up from 0.89% on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average got a boost from Disney, which hit a new high after giving investors an encouraging update on subscriber growth and future plans for its Disney Plus streaming service. The index rose 0.2%, to 30,046.37. The tech-heavy Nasdaq lost 0.2% to 12,377.87. The Russell 2000 small-cap index gave up 0.6% to 1,911.70.

Investors are watching for updates on the rollout of coronavirus vaccines that might help beat back surging infections that threaten to derail recoveries from business shutdowns and other pandemic-related shocks.

The first of many freezer-packed COVID-19 vaccine vials made their way to distribution sites across the United States on Sunday, as the nation’s pandemic deaths approached the horrifying new milestone of 300,000.

Widespread vaccination will take months and the virus pandemic is prompting tighter restrictions on businesses. An already slow economic recovery appears to be stalling in the wake of the latest surge and unemployment is rising.

Wall Street is also waiting for a special election in Georgia in early January, which could potentially switch the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil gained 13 cents to $46.70 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 11 cents to $46.57 per barrel on Friday. Brent crude, the international standard, picked up 16 cents to $50.13 per barrel.

The dollar weakened to 103.98 Japanese yen from 104.93 yen late Friday. The euro rose to $1.2135 from $1.2115.