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Asian Markets Rebound, Chinese Stocks Rally

Asian markets closed firmly higher Friday, despite a weak start to trading, with Chinese stocks jumping nearly 5 percent. Gains were all the more impressive given Wall Street's fall.

U.S. stocks declined for a second straight day on Thursday as soft results from technology Oracle fed worry about a cutback in business spending, while rumors that Lehman Brothers could suffer a fate similar to the near collapse of Bear Stearns plagued the financial sector.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average closed up 1.7 percent on a wave of buying by investors seeking to raise their portfolio value ahead of the fiscal year-end, led higher by property firms such as Mitsubishi Estate. Friday's rise snapped a two-day losing streak and helped the Nikkei gain roughly 2.7 percent on the week, its biggest weekly gain since mid-February.

Seoul stocks ended 1.5 percent higher, with technology and automakers up on expectations of solid first-quarter earnings as a weak currency makes exports more competitive, but financial shares fell. LG Electronics and LG Display were both higher. Automakers such as Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors also gained on expectations of robust first-quarter results.

Australia's ASX/S&P 200 Index lost 0.4 percent, falling for a second straight day, as financials including National Australia Bank fell on concerns about more writedowns by
Wall Street banks. But the index still logged its biggest weekly rise since the start of subprime crisis in August 2007 and traders said many cashed-up investors are beginning to look for value. Centro Properties, a troubled property investor, jumped 16.3 percent on speculation its lenders could soon extend an April 30 refinancing deadline. Centro denied a media report which said lenders had already extended the deadline.

The Hang Seng Index breached the psychological 23,000 level and closed higher by 2.7 percent. Blue chips led the advance. Shares of CNOOC rose, even though the top Chinese offshore oil and gas producer posted a disappointing 14 percent rise in second-half earnings despite climbing oil prices, after paying out nearly $1 billion in oil taxes in 2007.

Singapore's Straits Times Index swung into the black and closed 0.2 percent higher. Raffles Education rose as much as 7.3 percent after it said it had agreed to buy a college in China for 208.5 million yuan ($29.7 million).

China's Shanghai Composite Index jumped 4.9 percent, recovering from a fresh 11-month low hit in early trade, as oil giant PetroChina bounced from its IPO price and big banks also surged. But analysts said it was not clear whether the market was finally bottoming out. It tumbled 5.42 percent on Thursday amid worries about new share supply and slowing corporate earnings growth, bringing its losses so far this month to 22 percent.