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Asian Stocks End Higher on Positive US Lead

Asian stock markets made healthy gains on Thursday, following the positive lead on Wall Street overnight.

Japan's Nikkei 225 average hit a 15-month closing high, buoyed by tech firms on hopes the upcoming U.S. earnings season will show a rebound in a key market for Japanese manufacturers.

The benchmark index gained 1.6 percent to 10,907.68, its highest finish since October 2008. The broader Topix also rose 1.6 percent to 959.01.

Mizuho Financial jumped 5.7 percent after Bloomberg reported the bank is considering a rights offering to boost capital, citing people familiar with the matter.

A rights offering would likely lead to less dilution of shareholder value than a straight share offering, which the market has been expecting, analysts said.

Japan's core machinery orders fell 11.3 percent in November from the previous month, a surprise fall signaling that capital spending remains a drag on the economy as it slowly recovers from its worst slump in decades.

Shippers Nippon Yusen, Kawasaki Kisen and Mitsui OSK surged between 5-7 percent, helped by a Nikkei report that Mitsui OSK Lines likely generated a roughly 10 billion
yen ($109.4 million) pretax profit for the October-December quarter.

The figure would be up more than 500 percent from the preceding three-month period, as robust resource demand in emerging countries such as China and India helped boost business for bulk carriers for transporting iron ore and coal, the Nikkei said.

Toyo Denki Seizo also surged over 5 percent after the electrical equipment maker said it has received orders worth $33 million from China.

Seoul shares rose, fueled by rises in technology issues ahead of Intel results in the U.S., while POSCO slipped ahead of its quarterly results.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) finished up 0.86 percent at 1,685.77 points.

Rises were fueled by memory chip issues including Samsung Electronics and Hynix Semiconductor, which rose 3.76 percent and 5.82 percent respectively.

Recent rises in key memory chip prices helped memory chip issues post a particularly strong rebound after their latest sharp falls, analysts said. Strong gains by the key U.S. semiconductor index also help.

LG Display also eked out a solid gain of 5.35 percent.

"LG Display shares suffered losses during recent sessions despite its solid earnings outlook, and investors are flocking to buy its shares cheaply today," said Yoon Hyuk-jin, an analyst at Shinyoung Securities. "Panel pricing in February is expected to be strong, helped by improving
economies and steadily robust demand for LCDs from China."

But POSCO dragged, losing 0.67 percent, before its quarterly results on Thursday after the markets' close.

The steelmaker is expected to report firm year-on-year earnings growth helped by cheaper raw materials prices and recovering demand.

Shipbuilders also rallied on steady rises in the Baltic Dry Index, which tracks the cost of shipping key commodities, according to Shinhan Investment Corp analyst Cho In-karp.

Hyundai Heavy Industries jumped 5.97 percent and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering rose 1.04 percent.

In other sectors, shares in Korean Air soared 6.53 percent as recent strength in the won stoked hopes of an earnings turnaround for South Korea's top air carrier.

Analysts said the stronger won should help the firm offset fuel costs, which are paid in dollars, and boost overseas travel demand.

Australian stocks rose, ending two straight days of losses, with strong jobs data pointing to the strength of the economy. Rebounding Asian markets added to buoyant sentiment.

Miners and banks led gains as concerns receded that a policy tightening in China would slow demand.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 29.9 points to 4,898, almost recouping Wednesday's losses

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index was flat at 3,278.33.

Optimism over the Australia's economy rose after figures showed employment blew past expectations for a fourth straight month in December while the jobless rate fell to an eight-month low.

Miners recovered after yesterday's sell-off. Rio Tinto rose 2.6 percent to A$79.15. It beat its own forecast for quarterly iron ore output in the fourth quarter, reflecting rising demand.

Rival BHP Billiton climbed 1.5 percent A$43.78 while iron ore miner Fortescue Metals rose 3.3 percent to A$5.28.

Banks were boosted by the prospects of a strong economy. Macquarie Group rose 3.7 percent to $A50.43, its highest close in almost three months, Westpac climbed 1.1 percent to A$25.38 and National Australia Bank put on 0.9 percent to A$27.05.

Engineering contractor Worley Parsons continued to suffer, falling 1.1 percent to A$25.7 after losing 11.5 percent on Wednesday when it cut its full year profit forecast after a poor performance from its U.S. operations.

Taiwan stocks closed 1.14 percent higher, as Acer hit a 10-year closing high after IDC said the company's market share rose in the fourth quarter of last year.

The main TAIEX share index rose 93.42 points to 8,289.98.

Acer, the world's No. 2 PC brand, rose 4.51 percent to its strongest close since April 2000, pulling the broader electronics sub-index up 1.67 percent.

Earlier, research firm IDC said Acer's market share continued to grow in the fourth quarter of last year, helped by the company's strong performance in the popular low-cost netbook PC segment.

Other PC-related plays such as Compal and Asustek also rose, climbing 3.44 and 3.18 percent, respectively.

Top financials such as Cathay Financial trailed the big board, rising 0.51 percent ahead of a memorandum of understanding between Taiwan and China that will take effect on Saturday.

The memorandum of understanding between Taiwan and China allows the island's financial firms to tap the mainland market and paves way for banks on both sides to invest in each other.

Smaller rivals such as Fubon Financial and Shin Kong Financial also lagged gains, rising 0.39 percent and 1.12 percent, respectively.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.2 percent while the Shanghai Composite gained 1.4 pecent by the close.

Property stocks extended their falls, leading losses on Hong Kong's stock index on persistent worries about moves by Beijing to curb property speculation.

China Overseas Land lost 2.3 percent to a seven-month low of HK$15.34.

Analysts said Beijing's surprise decision to increase bank reserve requirements could signal an end to easy and cheap funding, putting pressure on the earnings of Chinese property companies.

Consumer-related companies including Esprit Holdings and exporters such as Foxconn International rose as investors bet on a positive outlook for the companies, seen as relatively immune to Beijing's tighter monetary policy.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore's STI rose 0.7 percent on gains by big banks, property plays and other blue chips.

DBS shares rose after the country's top lender said that an improving economic climate will help boost its earnings this year.

Malaysia's KLSE was up 0.4 percent at 1,294.7 points.

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