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Asian Markets Close Higher, But Singapore Declines

Asian markets mostly finished higher Thursday, but were off their morning highs. Volumes were thin amid a dearth of strong incentives, with many market participants holding back ahead of a long weekend in the United States. Japan and South Korea both closed almost 1% higher.

Investors snapped up energy shares after oil jumped more than 2% the previous session, on a sharp drop in U.S. crude and gasoline inventories. Japan's INPEX Holdings and Australia's Woodside Petroleum both advanced.

Technology shares were also in demand thanks to a rally in their U.S. peers led by Apple on buzz surrounding the expected launch of new iPod products. Samsung Electronics and chip-tester maker Advantest rose.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average closed 0.88% higher as strong oil prices pushed up energy stocks and trading firms, while TDK gained on its plan to buy Thai-based Magnecomp Precision Technology. Tokyo Electron rose on a report about strong earnings, while trading house Mitsui & Co advanced after saying it had won an order to build a diesel oil plant in Egypt.

South Korea's KOSPI closed almost 1% higher, led by technology stars as Samsung Electronics on hopes of a U.S. interest rate cut, with Korea Exchange Bank gaining on bets it could soon be sold to HSBC. But takeover target Korea Express slipped after soaring by more than a quarter in the past three sessions amid expectations of a bidding war.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index finished 0.5% higher, as hopes of an interest rate cut in the U.S. lifted shares in U.S.-focused firms such as CSL, while firmer metal prices lifted mining firms.

Hong Kong stocks closed 2% higher, pacing recovering global markets, as CNOOC advanced and Esprit Holdings shot to a record a day after they reported better-than-expected earnings. Hong Kong-listed China plays outperformed with a 2.8% gain as investors bid up blue-chip lender China Construction Bank, while China Oilfield Services bolted to a record on strong earnings.

China's Shanghai Composite Index finished 1.1% higher, buoyed by a rebound of overseas markets and a positive speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao on developing the country's capital markets. Hu's speech, carried on the front pages of major newspapers, called for reform of the financial markets to accelerate. Many investors interpreted this as confirmation that authorities wanted the stock market to stay strong at least through the 17th Communist Party Congress, which starts in mid-October.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was the only Asian index to close lower, with shipbuilder Labroy Marine leading the losers with a 9% decline.

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