Asian shares climb on hopes US to finally get more stimulus

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People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus reflected on the electronic board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Wednesday, Dec.16, 2020. Asian shares are higher Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 on hopes the U.S. Congress may finally deliver fresh aid to help businesses and families weather the pandemic. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Shares were mostly higher in Asia on Thursday, buoyed by hopes the U.S. Congress may finally deliver fresh aid to help American businesses and families weather the pandemic.

Benchmarks rose in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai but fell in South Korea.

Overnight, the S&P 500 edged close to a record after the Federal Reserve pledged to keep buying bonds until the economy makes substantial progress from its virus-wracked state.

Congressional leaders appeared late Wednesday to be on the brink of a COVID-19 economic aid package that would extend help to individuals and businesses and ship coronavirus vaccines to millions.

Negotiators were working on a $900 billion package that would revive subsidies for businesses hit hard by the pandemic, help distribute new vaccines, fund schools and renew soon-to-expire jobless benefits. They’re also looking to include new direct payments of about $600 to most Americans.

Help for the U.S. economy is seen as crucial for the global economy and the many exporters that rely on American demand to keep their own factories running.

But optimism over a possible deal after many false starts has been tempered with concern over a resurgence of coronavirus cases in many Asian regions at a time when the rollout of vaccinations has barely begun.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index edged 0.1% higher to 26,485.44 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo also inched up 0.1%, to 26,790.88. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 jumped 0.8% to 6,735.10 and the Shanghai Composite index added 0.6% to 3,388.24.