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Asian Markets Trade Higher as Alibaba Shares Rally 8% in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks were mostly higher on Thursday, with shares of Chinese tech giant Alibaba in the spotlight following reports that Chinese regulators will probe the firm for suspected monopolistic behavior.

Alibaba shares in Hong Kong fell 8.13% on Thursday.

China’s State Administration for Market Regulation said through official online channels it has opened an investigation into Alibaba over monopolistic practices. The news was first reported by Bloomberg, and was announced by Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Chinese authorities also said Thursday they would meet with Alibaba-affiliate Ant to supervise the financial technology firm on issues such as operating in a market-oriented way.

Those developments came on the heels of an increasing — and largely unexpected — push by Chinese authorities to rein in their biggest tech firms through regulatory action.

Stocks in Asia-Pacific were higher on Thursday, with markets in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore closing early for Christmas Eve.

South Korea’s Kospi led gains among the region’s major markets as it jumped 1.7% on the day to 2,806.86. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 gained 0.54% to close at 26,668.35 while the Topix index advanced 0.51% to 1,774.27.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 0.16% higher at 26,386.56. Stocks in mainland China lagged as they closed lower, with the Shanghai composite falling 0.57% to 3,363.11 while the Shenzhen component slipped 0.71% to 13,915.57.

Meanwhile, shares in Australia climbed, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.33% to 6,664.80. The Straits Times Index in Singapore gained 0.3% to 2,842.04.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.38%.

Meanwhile, in Brexit trade deal negotiations between Britain and the European Union, bond yields and the British pound jumped on Wednesday following reports that an agreement was close. Reuters reported that a trade deal was “imminent,” citing a senior EU diplomat, though CNBC could not independently verify this.

The British pound was at $1.3557, having fallen to around $1.32 earlier in the week.

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 rose less than 0.1% to close at 3,690.01 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended its trading day 114.32 points higher at 30,129.83. The Nasdaq Composite closed 0.3% lower at 12,771.11.

The moves stateside came after U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the new U.S. Covid-19 relief package, an act that could delay the deployment of funds to struggling Americans. On Wednesday, Trump also vetoed the sweeping defense bill that authorizes a topline of $740 billion in spending and outlines Pentagon policy.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 90.209 following levels above 90.8 seen earlier in the week.

The Japanese yen traded at 103.57 per dollar, off levels below 103.2 against the greenback seen last week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7587, off lows below $0.75 seen earlier in the trading week.

Oil prices were higher in the afternoon of Asia trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 0.29% to $51.35 per barrel. U.S. crude futures advanced 0.25% to $48.24 per barrel.