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Asian Markets End Mixed in Volatile Trading

Asian markets were flatish Wednesday, with stocks swinging in and out of negative territory. But exporter shares fell as the U.S. and euro zone economies sputtered though investors found some value in companies dependent on domestic growth.

Oil prices ticked higher above $117 a barrel, supported by fears that Tropical Storm Gustav, which could strengthen substantially back to hurricane levels, would rip through crude and natural gas assets in the Gulf of Mexico. Though prices are about $30 below
record highs reached a month ago, oil is a constant reminder of corporate Asia's vulnerability to cost pressures.

The U.S. dollar slipped after hitting a six-month high against the euro on Tuesday, with dealers closing out of short-term bets on the dollar after the currency did not extend gains in Asia.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average shed 0.2 percent, led lower by exporters like Honda Motor amid concerns about the global economic outlook while property shares dropped after the collapse of another builder. The market's fall was cushioned after gains in oil prices lifted energy shares such as oil and gas explorer Inpex Holdings. Drugmakers like Eisai attracted investors looking for stocks considered less vulnerable to an
economic downturn.

Seoul shares closed slightly higher, reversing earlier losses of up to 1.6 percent on gains in banking and defensive issues, but falling tech shares continued to weigh on the index.

Australian shares closed flat as weakness in the financial sector on credit crunch concerns countered gains by oil producers such as Woodside Petroleum, on higher crude prices.

Hong Kong shares rose 1.9 percent, led by an extended post-earnings relief rally in top insurer China Life and gains in commodity-linked stocks on resurgent oil prices but turnover stayed thin ahead of key results. Among the blue chips slated to announce their earnings were China Mobile, PetroChina, CNOOC, Esprit Holdings, Huaneng Power, Wharf Holdings and Foxconn International Holdings.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was a touch lower. The index had earlier hit a new two-year low on losses in property stocks such as CapitaLand and in index heavyweight Singapore Telecommunications.

China's Shanghai's Composite Index closed 0.3 percent lower, but off lows hit early in the session. Brokerage shares outperformed amid fresh rumors that as a step to support the market, regulators might soon permit the long-delayed launch of trade in stock index futures.