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Asian Markets End Mostly Higher, Financials Slip

CNBC.com
Wednesday, 14 May 2008 | 6:07 AM ET

Asian markets turned mostly higher after a lackluster start Wednesday. Both Japan and Australia closed the session 1 percent higher.

Banks were hurt by U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's comments on the credit crisis. "Conditions in financial markets are still far from normal," Bernanke said in a speech. "Ultimately, market participants themselves must address the fundamental sources of financial strains. This process is likely to take some time." Financial shares such as Mizuho Financial Group and rival Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group both declined.

U.S. crude oil held just below $126 a barrel, after OPEC producer Iran said it was studying a plan to cut output despite signs record-high prices were hurting consumer nations.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average rose 1.2 percent to a four-month closing high as industrial robot maker Fanuc and other exporters gained on a weaker yen, though banks dragged on the market. The market also got a boost from Toho Zinc and other zinc-related companies as zinc prices soared after a research group said the earthquake in China's Sichuan province has put up to half a million tons of zinc smelting capacity out of action.

Seoul shares closed fractionally higher as gains by steelmakers and electronics exporters offset losses by financials and retailers on worries about market competition.

Australian shares rose 1 percent to a four-month closing high, as BHP Billiton raced to an all-time high on talk that a Chinese entity was looking to buy a stake in the world's top miner. Shares in its main rival, Rio Tinto, also hit a record on talk BHP may improve its hostile bid for Rio and after BHP's chief executive told CNBC that it was not ruling out adding cash to its all-share hostile offer.

Hong Kong stocks closed flat, as investors weighed the impact of the earthquake in China, record high oil prices and Bernanke's downbeat comments. Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing fell 1.7 percent ahead of its earnings. During the midday break, the Hong Kong bourse posted a 79 percent jump in first-quarter earnings on higher turnover due to sustained investor interest in China's booming economy.

Singapore's Straits Times Index ended a touch lower, but shares of Singapore Airlines rose slightly after reporting a less-than-feared 21 percent fall in quarterly profit.

China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.7 percent, bouncing from the previous day's loss as fears eased over the long-term effects of southwest China's devastating earthquake on economic growth and inflation. Companies from southwest China that resumed trading after a halt due to Monday's quake, which killed more than 13,000, put in a mixed performance, with
several falling due to concerns about disrupted operations. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country's top lender gained and China Life Insurance both advanced.