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Asian Stocks Steady in Quiet Trade; 'Cliff' Weighs

Asian shares closed rangebound in quiet pre-holiday trade on Monday from a slump late last week, with prices capped by nervousness about the risk of the United States failing to avert a fiscal crisis.

Top U.S. lawmakers voiced rising fear on Sunday that the country would go over "the fiscal cliff" in nine days, triggering harsh spending cuts and tax hikes, and some Republicans charged that was President Barack Obama's goal.

(Read More: Boehner's 'Plan B' Is Off the Table, Markets Await 'Plan C')

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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The FTSE CNBC Asia 100 index edged up 0.1 percent.

Financial markets in Japan are closed for a public holiday.

South Korean shares barely moved on Monday, with turnover hitting the lowest in nearly six months ahead of the Christmas holiday and uncertainty over U.S. fiscal negotiations.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index closed flat at 1,981.8 points after losing as much as 1 percent on Friday.

But Samsung Electronics gained 2.2 percent, rebounding from a 4.1 percent slump on Friday, after a brokerage upgraded its target share price, forecasting strong smartphone sales next year.

Hyundia Heavy Industries declined 1.6 percent after announcing on Sunday that the company and its affiliated shipyard have obtained orders totaling $1.05 billion to build five liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers.

Australian shares advanced 0.25 percent in a short session on Monday, lifted by blue-chips, with the market on track for a gain of 14.3 percent for the year.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended 11.6 points higher at 4,635.2 in thin trade. Monday's session was shortened ahead of the two-day Christmas holiday. Trading is set to resume on Thursday.

Shares in surf wear company Billabong International initially rose 3.6 percent after the takeover target said it had allowed the backers of a $556 million buyout offer to examine its books. Its shares ended up 0.6 percent at A$0.83, still well below the A$1.10 per share offer price.

Department store Myer gained 1 percent to A$2.07 on hopes of strong holiday sales. The Australian Retailers Association predicts Christmas sales will be up a solid 3.9 percent on last year.

News Corp's online classifieds business REA Group jumped 3.5 percent after posting double-digit growth in the first quarter, with earnings up 28 percent as revenues rose 17 percent.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index closed up 0.07 percent at 4,057.8.

Hong Kong shares edged higher in half-day trade on Monday, helped by strength in the Chinese financial sector after state media reported that social security funds had allocated more money for investment.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed up 0.2 percent at 22,541.2 while the China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong closed up 0.4 percent.

Hong Kong financial markets will resume trading on Thursday.

Mainland China shares outshone other Asian markets on Monday, helped by strength in financials after state-run media reported of more fund allocation by the country's social security funds and raised expectations of additional investment in the sector.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed up 0.2 percent to 2,159 points.

Chinese banks rallied, with China Merchants Bank gaining 3.3 percent and Agricultural Bank of China rising 0.7 percent in Shanghai.

Alcohol stocks extended their November downward spiral as Kweichow Moutai fell 4.7 percent after Beijing banned its top brass from hosting boozy banquets while working.

Over in Southeast Asia, Singapore's Straits Times Index closed up 0.2 percent in thin volume while Malaysia's KL Composite Index ended up 0.5 percent.

In India, both the BSE Index and the 50-share NSE Index ended 0.1 percent higher.