Asia Markets Mostly Higher but Uncertainty Prevails

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Asian markets mostly rose Thursday following broad losses the previous two days but they struggled to maintain early momentum as analysts warned caution was prevailing on geopolitical worries and fading hopes for Donald Trump's stimulus drive.

Energy firms were among the main laggards, tracking losses in their US counterparts, after a surprise jump in US petroleum inventories sent oil prices skidding almost four percent Wednesday.

Hong Kong added 0.4 percent in the afternoon, Sydney put on 0.3 percent by close, Seoul jumped 0.5 percent and Singapore 0.1 percent. 

But Tokyo ended marginally lower, while Shanghai was also flat. Wellington and Taipei slipped.

Markets have been rattled in recent weeks by a series of events that upended the optimism that welcomed in the year.

Trump's failure to push through key healthcare reform last month dealt a huge blow to his chances of passing the tax-cutting, big-spending plan that had helped fan a global rally since his election win in November.

That was followed by a US missile strike on Syria -- which hit US-Russian relations -- and the ongoing sabre-rattling by North Korea that has fuelled worries about nuclear conflict.

At the same time France and Germany are preparing for elections that could have big implications for the eurozone, and Britain's shock decision to call a general election next month is also keeping dealers on edge. 

- Energy firms lag -And an uninspiring Federal Reserve report Wednesday on the US economy also failed to provide any lift.

"Geopolitical angst, a faltering US economy and the UK snap election are consuming investors mindsets," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA.

"With so many uncertainties offering few incentives for investors to re-engage risk exposure, clearly there is little market bravado as dealers appear to be disposed to participate after the fact, rather than play the post-election knee-jerk."

Crude enjoyed a slight recovery in Asia after the oil minister of Saudi Arabia suggested an output cut among major producers "might have to" be extended.

But investors kept away from big-name companies after the US energy agency announced the increase in petroleum stockpiles, which fuelled worries about demand as the country heads into the crucial holiday season when Americans take to the roads.

CNOOC fell 1.3 percent and PetroChina shed 1.1 percent in Hong Kong, while Sydney-listed Woodside Petroleum lost 1.2 percent and Inpex sank 1.3 percent in Tokyo.

On forex markets, eyes are on this weekend's first round vote in the French presidential elections, with a four-way race making it tough to call who will go into the run-off.

There are fears a win for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, riding a wave of populism, could see the collapse of the eurozone after she said she would withdraw France from the currency bloc.

In early European trade London and Paris each fell 0.2 percent, while Frankfurt shed 0.4 percent.

- Key figures at 0710 GMT -Tokyo - Nikkei 225: FLAT at 18,430.49 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.4 percent at 23,922.49

Shanghai - Composite: FLAT at 3,172.10 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,101.53

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2821 from $1.2772 at 2100 GMT

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0725 from $1.0708 

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.90 from 108.85 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 26 cents at $50.70 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 32 cents at $53.25

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.6 percent at 20,404.49 (close)

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