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Asia Mostly Up, Nikkei at 9-Month High

Most Asian share markets struggled for traction on Tuesday, but Japan's Nikkei hit a fresh 9-month high and Australian stocks rose as hopes of a sustained recovery for the rich world encouraged investors to switch funds from emerging to developed markets.

Japan, the best-performing Asian market this year with a gain of around 4 percent, extended gains for a third straight day as investors pile into riskier assets in developed economies on hopes for a steady economic recovery.

The benchmark Nikkei ended up 0.4 percent or 43.94 points at 10,635.98. It rose as high as 10,648.80, its highest since May 6.

The broader Topix added 0.4 percent to 944.00.

Toyota Motor's earnings released after the bell were better than analysts expected. It reported a 47.6 percent drop in quarterly profit, hit by slumping Japanese car sales and a firm yen, but lifted its annual operating profit forecast to 550 billion yen ($6.68 billion) from a cautious 380 billion yen, as profit for the first nine months topped the original figure.

Nippon Meat Packers surged 6.6 percent to 1,196 yen, after it reported operating profit for the first nine months rose 14.5 percent from a year earlier and lifted its outlook for the full year to March 31 by 15 percent, helped by growth in domestic meat sales.

Dentsu, Japan's biggest advertising agency, added 0.7 percent to 2,605 yen after the company said sales jumped 10.7 percent in January from a year earlier, marking the fifth straight month of gains.

Seoul shares retreated, hurt by falls in shipyards and exporters including Daewoo Shipbuilding and Hyundai Motor, but firm gains in airlines and tour issues lent the market support.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) finished down 0.58 percent.

Shipyards lost ground amid fears a likely hike in steel prices would hurt profitability.

KISCO , a domestic steelmaker, said it would raise prices for its reinforcement bars.

Shares in Hyundai Heavy Industries lost 2.3 percent and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering tumbled 6.8 percent.

Steel producers POSCO and Hyundai Steel extended gains, climbing 2.2 percent and 3.7 percent respectively, after two Japanese steelmakers announced a merger plan, lifting sentiment for the sector.

Airlines and tour issues outperformed amid expectations a massive tourist outflow during a long holiday last week would translate into strong sales. Shares in Korean Air Line , the country's biggest airline, rose 1.1 percent, and Asiana Airlines advanced 1.8 percent.

Banks and insurers also outperformed amid strengthening expectations for an interest rate hike. Shares in Woori Finance Holdings ,rose 1.3 percent and Samsung Life Insurance advanced 0.9 percent.

But shares in Shinhan Financial Group fell 1.4 percent ahead of its disappointing fourth quarter results, which came after the closing bell.

Australian shares rose 0.5 percent as National Australia Bank hit a three-month high on a positive first-quarter results and global miner Rio Tinto gained on signs of strong metal demand.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 21.9 points to a 9-month high of 4,890.4, according to the latest data.

NAB, the nation's top lender, rose 1.9 percent after an 18 percent rise in first-quarter cash profit, beating analyst forecasts. Other banks also gained, with Commonwealth Bank , which reports earnings on Wednesday, up 0.8 percent.

But Macquarie Group fell as much as 2.5 percent in early trade but ended down 0.3 percent at A$41.10 after it forecast a fall in profit of about 5 percent in the second half.

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index ended down 0.2 percent as concerns over more cooling measures in China weighed on the country's property stocks.

Shares of CapitaLand fell 0.8 percent and Yanlord Land dipped 1.9 percent.

Shares of palm oil firm Wilmar International outperformed the broader market, rising as much as 1.7 percent, after the firm said its proposed acquisition of Benso Oil Palm Plantation, which produces palm oil and palm kernel oil, has been approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Ghana.

In Greater China, Taiwan stocks reversed early gains to close 0.4 percent lower on Tuesday, with tech stocks pulling the index lower on concerns over poor first quarter earnings outlooks.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index ended 0.3 percent lower.

China markets remained closed for the Lunar New Year holidays.

The FTSE CNBC Asia 100 Index was up 0.6 percent.