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GLOBAL MARKETS-Asia stocks firm as U.S. economic support pushes Nasdaq to record

* S&P futures up slightly

* U.S. central bank repeats promise of low interest rates

* Washington moves toward more pandemic relief spending

* Bitcoin soars

* Asia stock markets this year: tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4

NEW YORK, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Asian stocks were set for gains on Thursday as progress toward a long-awaited U.S. stimulus package and a pledge by the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low helped the Nasdaq benchmark to a fresh record high.

Australia’s S&P/ASX benchmark rose 0.64% in early trading. Japan’s Nikkei 225 futures added 0.02% while the e-mini futures for the S&P 500 rose 0.07%, following another strong Wall Street finish.

The Fed said on Wednesday it would stick with its policy of low interest rates while legislators moved closer to agreeing on an additional $900 billion of COVID-19 aid, including $600 to $700 stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits.

“Chairman (Jerome) Powell assured the world that the Fed will extend its asset purchase program if economic growth slows,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at broker CMC Markets in Sydney. “The re-assurance saw the markets continue on their optimistic path,” he said, but added that some bond traders had been looking for more, prompting a selloff that steepened the U.S. curve.

On Wall Street, the Nasdaq Composite booked another record close at 12,658.19, up 0.5% for the day. The S&P 500 gained 0.2% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.2%.

U.S. Treasury yields increased slightly, however, with the benchmark 10-year yield up 0.4 basis point to 0.925% on Wednesday afternoon.

The Fed said it will keep its benchmark overnight interest rate near zero until an economic recovery is complete and it will now tie its program of monthly government bond purchases to that same goal.

Officials slightly lifted their outlook for economic growth next year to 4.2% from 4.0% and lowered their expected unemployment rate to 5% from 5.5%.

The dollar initially rose slightly on the Fed’s announcement, but soon the dollar index was down 0.2% on the day, around a two-year low.

Strategists at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said the dollar’s downward trend will continue because of the weight of the U.S. current account deficit and the appeal an improving world economy will give to other currencies.

Oil prices edged higher on Wednesday, buoyed by U.S. government data that showed crude stockpiles fell last week and by optimism about the U.S. coronavirus relief package.

Spot gold prices initially dipped on the Fed announcement, but then rose 0.5% to $1,862.72 an ounce.

Bitcoin broke through $20,000 for the first time on Wednesday, gaining more than 9% to $21,316 late in the day. The move came amid increased institutional and corporate interest.

The cryptocurrency has nearly tripled this year, buoyed by demand from larger investors attracted to its potential for quick gains, purported resistance to inflation and expectations it will become a mainstream payment method.

Reporting by David Henry in New York; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Editing by Sam Holmes

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