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Asian Markets End Mixed, Japan Climbs 1%

CNBC.com
Tuesday, 1 Apr 2008 | 5:07 AM ET

Asian stocks closed mixed Tuesday as markets pared back gains ahead of a raft of economic indicators due out this week. Investors are wary over the prospect of a serious global economic slowdown.

Many investors, still shaken by the recent wave of bad news out of credit markets, including the fall of investment bank Bear Stearns, were unwilling to plough cash into the market just yet. Underlining investor nerves, UBS wrote down an additional $19 billion in assetsfor the first quarter, causing a net loss of 12 billion Swiss francs (US$12.03 billion) for the period, and said it would seek 15 billion francs in new capital through a rights issue

Commodities such as oil steadied after plunging on Monday, while the U.S. dollar was largely unchanged against major currencies such as the euro.

TheBank of Japan's tankan survey showed business sentiment worsening more than expected in the past three months. The tankan, meaning short-term economic outlook, also showed big firms expect their capital spending to fall 1.6 percent in the financial year that started on April 1, below the market's median forecast for a flat reading.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average closed 1 percent higher as blue-chip exporters such as Canon climbed and investors bought back bank shares that took a beating the day before. Both the Nikkei and the broader TOPIX spiked to within a breath of 2 percent but fell back as players were reluctant to buy actively ahead of a raft of economic indicators due out later this week, including U.S. jobs data.

Seoul stocks finished a touch lower, pressured by retailers, after South Korea's March consumer prices rose more than expected, undermining earlier gains seen by technology shares. Retailers such as Shinsegae and Hyundai Department Store both slipped.

Australian shares ended little changed, with nagging credit worries weighing down on National Australia Bank and other banks, though resource firms gained after gold prices bounced and oil steadied. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both advanced. The Reserve Bank of Australia left interest rates unchanged at a 12-year peak of 7.25 percent, though it had little impact on rate-sensitive banks as the move was widely expected.

Hong Kong stocks closed 1.3 percent stronger, buoyed by heavyweight China Mobile and tracking Wall Street gains a day after the index closed its worst quarter in six years.

Singapore's Straits Times Index ended 1.1 percent higher, with Neptune Orient Lines rising after the shipping firm said it carried 10 percent more containers on its ships in the four weeks to March 7 compared with the same period a year ago.

China's Shanghai Composite Index sank more than 4 percent with PetroChina taking the biggest hit. This after the central bank repeated its commitment to a "tight" monetary policy, which was interpreted as suggesting authorities did not plan action to support the market.