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Nikkei Hits 3-Mth High on Yen, Wall St

Most Asian stock markets gained ground in thin pre-holiday trade on Thursday, led by Japan and China.

Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are closed for Christmas on Friday, but financial markets in China and Japan will remain open.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average rose 1.5 percent to post a three-month closing high as a weaker yen boosted high-tech exporters and after better-than-expected earnings from U.S. peers buoyed Wall Street.

Japan Tobacco jumped after saying it would raise cigarette prices by more than the government's tax hike of 70 yen ($0.77) per pack.

Kirin advanced after a newspaper reported the beer maker and rival Suntory Holdings are close to agreeing to a merger ratio.

Canon soared after it won approval from EU regulators for its takeover of a Dutch firm.

Energy-linked shares such as Inpex gained after oil prices rose more than 3 percent to above $76 a barrel on Wednesday after U.S. inventory data showed crude oil inventories in the world's top energy consumer fell more than expected.

The Nikkei climbed 158.89 points to 10,536.92, its highest since Sept. 24. The broader Topix added 1.2 percent to 913.72.

Seoul shares also advanced, fueled by technology and auto issues including Hyundai Motor. A rebound in banks following their recent losses lent markets further support.

Financials outperformed after their recent losses, Woori Finance gained 2.3 percent and KB Financial advanced 1.7 percent.

On Media soared 15 percent after CJ O Shopping, the TV and Internet shopping unit of CJ Group, said it bought a 55.17 percent stake in the cable channel operator worth 434.5
billion won ($369.3 million).

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index gained 20.99 points to 1,682.34.

Australian stocks climbed for a third day to close at a two-month high, driven by resource and banking stocks.

Traders said sentiment was positive that the rally could continue into early January, with a better economic outlook for the United States helping.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 indexfinished up 1.1 percent at 4,790.9, its highest close since Oct 26.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index ended 0.14 percent lower at 3,205.20.

Trading ended two hours earlier than normal for the Christmas holidays. Australian and New Zealand stocks will resume trading on Dec. 29.

Resources stocks did well after oil, metals and gold prices booked solid gains. BHP Billiton was up 1.3 percent to A$42.47 and Rio Tinto gained 0.3 percent to A$73.50. Gold miner Newmont Mining rose 2.6 percent to A$5.45.

The country's four big banks, which account for more than a fifth of the benchmark stock index, rose on news that they had struck a deal to pay around $1.5 billion to New Zealand tax authorities to settle a long-running dispute.

Westpac,which had the largest tax bill, rose 2.9 percent to A$25.39. NAB added 1.25 percent to A$26.70 while ANZ rose 3.1 percent to A$22.39.

Macquarie Group rose 1.2 percent after it said it will acquire the derivatives business of private bank Sal. Oppenheim, helping to boost its presence in Europe.

Shares of Warrnambool Cheese & Butter Factory jumped for a second day after it confirmed on Wednesday that it had received an unsolicited a takeover offer. Warrnambool shares ended up 23.7 percent at A$3.40.

Taiwan stocks rose 0.79 percent to a new 1-1/2-year closing high, led by gains in export-dependent tech firms such as Acer after solid export orders indicated a recovery in global trade.

The main TAIEX share index climbed 62.04 points to 7,963.54, its strongest close since the end of June last year.

Acer, the world's No. 2 PC brand, ended 3.15 percent higher, leading the broader electronics sub-index 0.90 percent higher.

Hong Kong shares gained for three straight sessions as property plays rose on hopes for a strong response to a government land auction next week.

Geely Auto rose 8.04 percent to a weekly high of HK$4.30, before closing at HK$4.26, up 7.04 percent. Ford Motor said that it was nearing an agreement to sell its Volvo unit to Geely, the parent of Geely Auto.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index finished up 0.88 percent, or 188.26 points, at 21,517 in a half-day of trading, its highest close in over a week. The index ended the four-day week 1.61
percent higher.

Local property stocks extended their advance on hopes for a strong response to an upcoming auction of two plots of land for residential purposes in Hong Kong on Monday. Market watchers
expected the auction to draw keen competition among developers.

New World Development rose 1.15 percent, Wharf climbed 1.41 percent, Sun Hung Kai gained 0.70 percent, and Sino Land was up 0.83 percent.

Insurers and banks advanced further, with China Construction Bank rising 1.69 percent and HSBC up 0.91 percent. China Pacific Insurance, China's third-largest life insurer, which struggled to stay above its issue price during its Wednesday trading debut, climbed 4.42 percent to HK$29.55 as the most active stock on Thursday morning.

Larger rival China Life gained 0.53 percent and Ping An Insurance was up 0.45 percent.

China's key Shanghai Composite index charged ahead 2.5 percent at 3,153.4 points, buoyed by optimism over China's economic recovery.

The rise was partly led by China State Construction Engineering on news that its parent was buying more shares in the listed unit, as prospects for China's economic recovery offset the negative impact of heavy new share supplies.

The market was also aided by an easing of year-end cash calls as most institutional investors, including mutual funds and brokerages, had completed their year-end settlements.

Banking stocks rebounded after China's banking regulator backed away from reports earlier this week of comments by a senior official indicating banks would need to raise 500
billion yuan from the capital markets next year.

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