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Stocks End Mixed, Tokyo Slips But Seoul Gains

Asian markets were mixed Wednesday, with Japan closing lower but South Korea edging up. The U.S. dollar sagged after the biggest drop in U.S. consumer confidence in five years cast doubt on the economy's resilience in the face of a housing and credit slump.

The dollar's fall sparked a rally in commodity and oil prices, and also lifted bonds, as investors took refuge in safer assets on concern the weak U.S. consumer outlook could exacerbate the housing market.

Metals, mining and oil companies rose, including Japan's Sumitomo Metal Mining, and Australia's Woodside Petroleum, helping some resource-heavy indexes, such as Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index move higher.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average finished lower as exporters such as Canon slipped on a stronger yen and many shares sagged after the date passed for investors to get the latest dividends.

Seoul stocks closed up 0.3 percent after moving sideways for most of the session, although Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering surged as a stake sale process kicked off. Daewoo closed up 10.77 percent after state-run Korea
Development Bank, Daewoo's top shareholder, said it would start the sale process for a 50.4 percent stake in the world No.3 shipbuilder, but gave no detailed timeframe. However gains were limited by a slide in LG Display, which fell 4 percent, after the company said it was seeking alliances with
Taiwan's Amtran.

Australian shares rose 1.2 percent to a three-week closing high as a bounce in oil and metal prices lifted heavyweight resource firms such as BHP Billiton and Woodside Petroleum. Shares in CBH Resources and fellow zinc miner Perilya climbed after Perilya offered A$294 million
($270 million) for CBH, aiming to unite their aging mines.

Hong Kong stocks edged up, buoyed by strong results from some major blue chips, including China Life and ICBC. Want Want was the most heavily traded stock, but its shares remained flat near HK$3 per share, the same as their Hong Kong IPO price.

Singapore's Straits Times Index slipped slightly lower. Olam International fell as much as 11.9 percent after a downgrade by Merrill Lynch triggered a selloff.

China's Shanghai Composite Index swung into negative territory despite strong 2007 earnings results from big banks. Concern about a slowdown of corporate earnings growth in the first quarter of 2008 weighed on the market. The biggest bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China edged lower after it announced late on Tuesday that net profit in 2007 gained 66 percent, in line with expectations. Bank of China rose after reporting a 31 percent gain in 2007 net, slightly better than expectations.