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Tokyo Stocks Hit Two-Week Closing High in Thin Trade

Japanese stocks closed at their highest in nearly two weeks Tuesday as investors picked up
recently pressured shares such as Sony, encouraged by a softening yen and after news from Merrill Lynch prompted a rally on Wall Street.

But trade was thin and gains were limited as many institutional investors were away for Christmas holidays.

The Nikkei 225 Average closed 1.9 percent higher. Exporters such as Hitachi and Nissan also gained. Bank counters such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial and Citibank's Tokyo shares also climbed.

The yen rebounded from a seven-week low against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday as investors trimmed positions in a holiday-thinned market.

Merrill Lynch's announcement on Monday that it would sell up to $6.2 billion in shares to Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings and Davis Selected Advisers,also improved risk demand, supporting high-yielders such as the Australian and New Zealand dollars.

China's Shanghai Composite Index edged down lower, led by PetroChina and other large-caps which triggered the market's surge on Monday. But most shares rose on Tuesday, and turnover stayed active. PetroChina, the most heavily weighted stock, slipped over 1 percent in what traders said was profit-taking after it jumped 4.65 percent on Monday.

All major Asian markets including Hong Kong and South Korea are closed for the Christmas holiday. Asian markets rallied Christmas Eve Monday, lifted by technology and bank stocks as stronger-than-expected U.S. consumer spending calmed fears the world's top economy was heading into a recession.

Christmas Eve brought glad tidings to Wall Street, with holiday cheer emanating from the battered financial sector and spreading through the market. Major indexes closed near their highs for the day, as investors built on a rally last week that finally brought Santa Claus to the stock market.