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EMERGING MARKETS-Most Asian stocks climb on China property support plans; FX steady

(Updates at 0720 GMT) * Malaysian stocks hit over 3-year high * China stocks scale over 8-month high * Indonesia rate decision due on Wednesday By John Biju May 20 (Reuters) - Most Asian equities advanced on Monday, while currencies were steady, as the latest measures from China to rescue its beleaguered property sector and prospects of imminent global rate cuts buoyed investment sentiments. Chinese stocks gained as much as 0.6% to hit their highest since early September 2023. Shares in the Philippines climbed more than 1% before paring some gains. Last week, China unveiled "historic" steps to stabilise its crisis-hit property sector, although economic data indicated a patchy recovery for the world's second-largest economy. Even with these measures, deep-rooted fundamentals of huge oversupply and weak demand remain in the country. "We believe the policy package is just the beginning of the central government's efforts to turn the sector around; there could be more policy support to be introduced in the near term," Nomura analysts wrote. In Southeast Asia, Malaysian shares extended gains from last week to climb as much as 0.8% to hit their highest in more than three years. Press Metal Aluminium Holdings and Axiata Group led the gains. Stocks in Indonesia reversed course to trade 0.2% lower. The country lowered its GDP growth forecast for 2025, ahead of a central bank rate decision later this week. A Reuters poll showed that the Bank Indonesia will likely keep its key interest rate on hold through the next quarter to support a weak rupiah. In its last policy meeting, the central bank unexpectedly hiked rates in an effort to stabilise the currency. The rupiah, which has lost 3.7% so far this year, edged 0.2% lower for the day. "As long as the market still believes that the Fed (Federal Reserve) will deliver at least two rate cuts, that would be positive for IDR," Poon Panichpibool, a markets strategist at Krung Thai Bank said. Ongoing recovery and growing interests from foreign investors on Indonesian equities should be drivers for the rupiah's strength in the second half of 2024, he added. Markets are wagering at least two rate cuts from the Federal Reserve this year after data last week showed U.S. consumer prices eased in April, but several Fed officials have sounded words of caution on when easing might happen. Traders are betting on about 46 bps of easing this year, with only a rate cut in November fully priced in. Most emerging Asian currencies were steady, with market participants awaiting minutes of the Fed's last policy meeting and inflation data from Singapore this week for further direction. The Thai baht climbed 0.3%, while equities edged 0.2% lower. Thailand trimmed its economic growth forecast for 2024 despite a better-than-expected expansion in the January-March quarter. HIGHLIGHTS: ** Japan's Nikkei retakes 39,000 level for first time since mid-April ** China's commerce ministry bans some U.S. firms from import, export activities ** Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid scorching heat Asia stock indexes and currenc ies at 0720 GMT Japan +0.03 -9.35 <.N2 25> 0.73 16.75 China EC> India - -0.15 <.NS - 3.55 EI> Indones -0.22 -3.69 <.JK -0.21 0.40 ia SE> Malaysi +0.06 -1.96 <.KL 0.55 11.75 a SE> Philipp -0.24 -4.21 <.PS 0.97 3.61 ines I> S.Korea 11> Singapo +0.03 -1.93 <.ST -0.11 2.15 re I> Taiwan -0.14 -4.70 <.TW 0.06 18.63 II> Thailan +0.28 -4.99 <.SE -0.18 -2.52 d TI> (Reporting by John Biju in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Sohini Goswami)