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Asian Markets Hit 7-Month Highs on Economic Hopes

Asian markets rose Wednesday to their highest level in more than seven months after a jump in U.S. consumer confidence reinforced expectations the global economy has hit a bottom, even if recovery appears fragile.

The safe-haven yen fell, while currencies seen as riskier bets, such as the Australian dollar, advanced. In another sign of improving investor confidence, crude prices pushed to a six-month high above $62 a barrel.

The renewed risk appetite was evident in currency markets. The yen, fell against major currencies, with the U.S. dollar edging higher against the Japanese currency. Both the euro and the sterling were also stronger against the yen. The Australian dollar hit an eight-month high against the greenback as higher-yielding currencies, which usually benefit when risk appetite increases, firmed.

The bolder mood from investors follows a couple of days of caution after North Korea sparked alarm by conducting a nuclear testand launching short-range missiles, and week long fears that the United States could lose its top-notch AAA rating.

Japan's exports showed modest signs of recoveryin April with shipments to China declining at a slower pace than a year earlier, providing further evidence that the worst of the global slump in trade may be over.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average rose 1.4 percent to close at its highest level in roughly two weeks, with exporters such as Sanyo, up 7 percent, gaining ground after U.S. consumer confidence surged. But gains were capped by fears that a General Motors bankruptcy is drawing near.

South Korea's KOSPI turned lower to end down 0.73 percent, as the latest developments in
North Korea highlighted South Korea's geopolitical risks, but gains in techs including LG Electronics lent some support.

Australian stocks rose 0.3 percent, as export-driven companies such as BHP Billiton and Westfield Group were driven up after consumer confidence data in the United States gave hope of an economic rebound.

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Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index scaled an eight-month high in resurgent volumes, up 5.3 percent, with encouraging consumer confidence data from the United States shining the spotlight on a likely global economic recovery. Li & Fung, which counts retail giants including Wal-Mart among its customers, soared 10.8 percent after U.S. consumer confidence data showed its biggest monthly jump in six years.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was 3 percent higher led by SingTel. Southeast Asia's
largest telecom firm, rose 5.8 percent despite concerns that its 30.4 percent stake in India's Bharti Airtel may be diluted if the Indian firm merges with South Africa's MTN.

China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.7 percent. PetroChina rose sharply as crude oil hovered near a six-month high above $62 per barrel, while a sharp jump on the global dry bulk freight index sent shares in China Cosco up.

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