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Asian Stocks Overcome Gloom to Swing Back to Black

Asian stocks edged up Monday, holding near a six-month peak struck last week and withstanding an early bout of profit-taking as investors eyed a slew of corporate earnings reports around the world this week.

The higher-yielding Australian dollar fell from a six-month high and commodity prices slipped after the initial drop in stocks, with assets that have gained the most on bets for a gradual global recovery coming under pressure. The euro slipped to a one-month low against the dollar on uncertainty over what the European Central Bank's next policy easing steps will be. Oil prices fell near $49 a barrel on news of a rebound in U.S. consumer confidence and better-than-expected quarterly earnings.

Over the weekend, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said that the next move would be a quarter-point trim in rates, but other officials have sent mixed signals on what unconventional measures could be adopted.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average finished 0.2 percent higher after spending most of the session in negative session, helped by a rise in steelmaker shares following an outlook upgrade on the sector.

Seoul shares ended firm, lifted out of negative territory by gains in banks, but caution ahead of a batch of key domestic and U.S. earnings and economic data limited rises.

Australian shares pared back losses, but still closed in the red, down 0.2 percent, dragged lower by global miner Rio Tinto on concerns over annual iron ore price talks and its tie up with China's Chinalco, and as banks turned negative.

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Hong Kong shares rose 1 percent, with Chinese counters leading the charge on reports earnings had picked up pace in March while local property firms rallied on an improved outlook for home prices. Profits at China's state-owned enterprises (SOEs) rose 26 percent in March from a year ago and 86 percent from the previous month, Xinhua reported over the weekend, citing an official with China's state asset watchdog. BOC Hong Kong, the Bank of China's local subsidiary, jumped 2.9 percent after China said over the weekend it would allow Hong Kong banks on the mainland to issue yuan-denominated bonds, a move seen helping spur loan growth.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was 0.8 percent lower. Shares of Ascendas REIT fell 4.1 percent as investors took profits after its share price rose about 45 percent since a low on March 10. DBS downgraded Ascendas to "hold" from "buy" with a target price of S$1.56 in a report on Monday, given limited upside to its target price and as it said it is trading at a premium to its peers at 0.9 times book value.

China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.1 percent in active trade, with blue chips strong and airline shares outperforming as investors grew more confident of China's economic outlook after comments at a weekend forum of Asian leaders. China's top three airlines soared on hopes that they may return to profit this year with the faster-than-expected rebound in domestic air travel in the first quarter expected to extend through the year. Air China rose, building on Friday's gains after the flag carrier, which reported a 9.15 billion yuan ($1.3
billion) net loss last year, said it was profitable in the first quarter.

China Eastern Airlines vaulted more than 10 percent at one point, as did China Southern Airlines. Loss-making China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines, due to release quarterly figures later this month, are also expected to see positive results.