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Asian Markets End Mostly Higher, US Fears Ease

Asian markets closed mostly higher Thursday, as investors were cheered by upbeat U.S. data. Australia, South Korea and Japan all finished higher, but Singapore and China slipped into the red.

Reports also showed U.S. companies added employees in November at the fastest pace in a year, and worker productivity rose at the strongest rate in four years in the third quarter, helping ease recession fears.

Investors bought some of the region's top exporters as worries about the U.S. economy eased, driving Canon, Sony and Hyundai Motor higher.

Bank stocks were also in favor, further boosted by positive news from American International Group, the world's largest insurer, which said its risks from the subprime crisis
were manageable. Mizuho Financial, Mitsubishi UFJ and South Korea's top lender Kookmin Bank all advanced more than 2 percent, while Australia's Macquarie Group and Citigroup's Tokyo shares both rose.

The Nikkei 225 Average hit a four-week
closing high as chipmakers such as Advantest
climbed following strong gains in U.S. semiconductor stocks such as Intel. Financials rose on a sense of reassurance that the United States is taking steps to deal with the subprime mortgage loan crisis, while a weaker yen helped boost exporters.

South Korea's KOSPI gained 0.8 percent to a three-week closing high, as chipmakers and steel producers rallied on the prospect of price increases, while LG.Philips fell on fears of a panel oversupply.

Australian shares rose 1.4 percent to a four-week closing high, with U.S.-focused firms such as Westfield Group among the top gainers after upbeat economic data allayed concerns of a recession in the world's biggest economy.

Hong Kong stocks ended 0.7 percent higher, as strong U.S. jobs data eased worries about a recession, but Alibaba.com sank in heavy trade after a broker said shares in the mainland e-commerce firm were expensive. Hang Seng Bank also saw active trade following a price target upgrade, while HSBC Holdings rebounded a day after it slid with other global financial issues.

Singapore's Straits Times Index climbed over 1 percent higher early in the session, but slipped to 0.2 percent lower before the end of trade. Shares of Yangzijiang Shipbuilding rose 3 percent after UBS raised the firm's target price to S$2.80 from S$2.43 and maintained a "buy" rating on the stock.

China's Shanghai Composite Index fell slightly after the government signaled it was shifting to a "tight" monetary policy from a "prudent" policy for the first time in a decade. Steelmakers retreated following a two-day rally, after Baosteel group denied earlier reports that it was considering a bid of at least $200 billion for mining giant Rio Tinto. The report was a fabrication of the media and Baosteel didn't at present have the financial strength for such a bid, official local newspapers quoted Chairman Xu Lejiang as saying.