Mnuchin faces criticism for his decision to take back Federal Reserve coronavirus funds amid new business closures.
Asian shares climbed on Monday, with a broad regional index touching a record high on hopes for imminent coronavirus vaccines.
But worries over the effect of economic lockdowns and uncertainty over stimulus measures in the United States capped gains.
A top official of the US government’s vaccine development effort said on Sunday that the first vaccines could be given to US healthcare workers and other vulnerable groups by mid-December.
Despite the backdrop of accelerating COVID-19 infections in the US, the forecast by Dr Moncef Slaoui – who heads Operation Warp Speed, a federal programme that scales up the manufacturing of promising vaccines as they are developed – helped to raise hopes that lockdowns that have paralysed the global economy could be nearing an end.
“With the vaccine on its way and the likelihood that economic damage being done by the virus will lift, we’ll still have in place substantial support from central banks and governments. And that is an economic sweet spot that should see a significant economic bounce,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.
“It’s fascinating that investors are willing to focus on that aspect. It does require some pretty heavy squinting, including looking through the rising infection rates that we’re seeing right now. But there is a real optimism around it.”
Total US COVID-19 cases topped 12 million over the weekend and more than 255,000 have died.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.56 percent on Monday, pushing past a previous record high touched on Friday.
Seoul’s KOSPI benchmark share index was 1.82 percent higher as an optimistic earnings outlook for South Korean chip giants drove gains.
South Korean exports rose by 7.6 percent in the first 20 days of November, latest data show, boosted by growing foreign demand for electronics.
“The electronics-driven strength of Korean exports bodes well for other large electronics producers in the region, namely Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia,” Alex Holmes, Asia economist at research firm Capital Economics, said in a research note sent to Al Jazeera.
“The strong performance of Asian exports has provided an important support to economic growth and is likely to see the region continue to outperform the rest of the world in the months ahead,” Holmes added.
Japanese markets were closed for a holiday, but Nikkei futures added 0.19 percent to 25,795.
The regional index also got a boost from Australian shares which gained 0.51 percent as the country eased some COVID-19 restrictions. Most of the country has seen no new community infections or deaths in several weeks.
Chinese blue-chips added 0.69 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was an outlier, edging down 0.2 percent.
Though most regional indexes were up on Monday, sentiment was fragile as monetary and fiscal help for the US economy remained elusive.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that key pandemic lending programmes at the Federal Reserve would expire on December 31, putting the outgoing Trump administration at odds with the central bank and potentially adding stress to the world’s largest 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.
US e-mini futures for the S&P 500 were 0.26 percent higher at 3,563 on Monday after US shares slumped on Friday on a combination of dwindling aid for the US economy and rising novel coronavirus infection rates.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.75 percent, the S&P 500 fell 0.68 percent and the Nasdaq Composite ended down 0.42 percent.
In currency markets, a rise in the safe-haven Japanese yen underscored nagging investor concerns. The dollar softened 0.1 percent to 103.75 while the euro gained 0.14 percent on the day to $1.1870.
The US dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six key rivals, nudged down to 92.255.
US crude eased less than 0.1 percent to $42.40 per barrel and global benchmark Brent crude rose 0.18 percent to $45.04 per barrel.
The spot gold price added 0.06 percent to $1,871.69 per ounce.