© Reuters/TYRONE SIUPeople wearing a protective face mask walks past a screen displaying Hang Seng Index, in Hong Kong
By Andrew Galbraith
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A broad gauge of Asian shares edged up to record highs on Monday morning as hopes for imminent coronavirus vaccines buoyed investor sentiment, but worries over the impact of economic lockdowns and uncertainty over U.S. stimulus capped gains.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.38%, pushing past a previous record high touched on Friday.
Trading activity was thin early in the Asian day, with Japanese markets closed for a holiday. Nikkei futures added 0.16% to 25,785 and Seoul's Kospi was 0.84% higher.
The regional index also got a boost from Australian shares which gained 0.81% as the country eased some COVID-19 restrictions. Most of the country has seen no new community infections or deaths in several weeks.
In contrast, in the United States - where COVID-19 infections are quickening, total cases topped 12 million over the weekend and more than 255,000 have died - many hopes are focused on rapid vaccine rollouts.
A top government official of the U.S. government's vaccine development effort said Sunday that the first vaccines could be given to U.S. healthcare workers and others recommended by mid-December.
Apart from the impact of pandemic-related lockdowns, many investors have taken a dim view of the slow pace of progress over stimulus to boost the U.S. economy.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that key pandemic lending programs at the Federal Reserve would expire on Dec. 31, putting the outgoing Trump administration at odds with the central bank and potentially adding stress to the economy.
"Discussion is only beginning and may take some time if the recent partisan disagreements over the composition and magnitude of fiscal spending are any indication," analysts at ANZ said in a note.
U.S. e-mini futures for the S&P 500 were 0.25% higher at 3,563 on Monday after U.S. shares slumped on Friday on a combination of dwindling aid for the U.S. economy and rising novel coronavirus infection rates.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.75%, the S&P 500 fell 0.68% and the Nasdaq Composite ended down 0.42%.
In currency markets, the dollar softened 0.06% against the yen to 103.79, while the euro gained 0.16% on the day to $1.1872.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, nudged down to 92.278.
U.S. crude rose 0.07% to $42.45 a barrel and global benchmark Brent crude rose 0.33% to $45.11 per barrel.
Spot gold rose 0.11% to $1,872.63 per ounce. [GOL/]
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; editing by Richard Pullin)