Asia-Pacific Markets

Asian Shares End Mixed, Nikkei at 6-Week High

CNBC with wires

Asian stock markets painted a mixed picture on Monday, following a positive finish on Wall Street in the previous session.

Tokyo rose 1.45 percent to a six-week closing high and Taipei ended Monday's session up 1.63 percent, a three-week peak. But Hong Kong and Sydney were dragged lower as resource-related stocks fell on the back of a slump in gold and copper prices.

Data on Friday showed that U.S. employers cut 11,000 jobs in November, the smallest loss since the recession began in December 2007, against market expectations of 130,000, and the unemployment rate also dipped to 10 percent from 10.2 percent.

Japan's Nikkei Average climbed to a six-week closing high on Monday, with exporters boosted by the dollar's surge against the yen late last week after better-than-expected U.S. jobs data fanned recovery hopes.

The Nikkei rose 145.01 points to 10,167.60 after earlier rising as much as 1.8 percent, hitting its highest close since late October. The broader Topix rose 1.1 percent to 898.93.

The dollar lost 0.6 percent this session, falling to just under 90 yen, but still substantially higher than last week.    

Exporters pared some of the morning gains made on the weaker yen and hopes that the jobs figures point to an increasingly strong economic recovery. Investors fret about a strong yen
because it eats into exporter profits when repatriated.

Sony rose 2.8 percent to 2,580 yen, while Canon gained 3.3 percent to 3,750 yen. Honda Motor edged up 0.7 percent to 3,050 yen.

Japan Airlines soared 7 percent after a government source said it is considering guaranteeing about 700 billion yen ($7.8 billion) in loans and other funds to the debt-laden airline.

Advantest Corp, a maker of chip testing devices, and other chip-related shares gained as well after rises by their U.S. peers following an upbeat forecast from TSMC, the world's biggest contract chip maker.

Also, Nomura upgraded its rating on the semiconductor equipment making sector to "bullish" from "neutral", saying the likelihood of a second bottom in chip gear orders had diminished as Korean memory makers press ahead with investments in 2010. The PHLX semiconductor index rose 2.1 percent on Friday.

Advantest rose 3.6 percent to 2,175 yen, Tokyo Electron gained 3.7 percent to 5,640 yen, and Nikon a maker of steppers, climbed 5.3 percent to 1,734 yen.

Shares of Hikari Tsushin jumped 7.5 percent to 1,669 yen, on news the major mobilephone retailer would spend up to 2.2 billion yen to buy back up to 1.7 million of its own shares, equal to 3.1 percent of all shares outstanding.

One stock that underperformed was Token Corp, which lost 7.7 percent to 2,520 yen after the apartment builder cut its annual profit forecast, citing weak demand.

Techs Lift KOSPI

Seoul shares rose as brighter economic hopes boosted technology and auto exporters, but losses in commodities-related issues like zinc refiner Korea Zinc weighed.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) finished up 0.49 percent at 1,632.65 points, a near six-week closing high.

Analysts said gains would be limited given the markets' uninterrupted rises last week, and amid brewing concerns about an early rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve following the latest data suggesting a more visible economic uptick.

Shares in steelmakers declined on views investors would shift from commodities to U.S. dollars amid recent signs of recovery in the world's largest economy, potentially weighing on sectors like steel.

"The dollar is seen growing stronger. This may prompt funds to seek dollars, and investment interest may shift away from commodities markets," said Shin Yun-shik, an analyst at Meritz

POSCO ended flat, and Hyundai Steel declined 0.89 percent.

Shares in Korea Zinc, the world's No. 2 zinc smelter, tumbled 5 percent, hurt by falling zinc prices, which lost 2.5 percent in the past three sessions.

Technology and auto exporters rallied amid strengthening economic turnaround hopes. Shares in Hynix Semiconductor, the world's No.2 memory chip maker, advanced 1.78 percent and Hyundai Motor went up 0.96 percent.

But tyre makers rose after media reports that they would raise prices for products in the U.S. market from 2010. Shares in Hankook Tire advanced 4.78 percent. Kumho Tire and Nexen Tire rose 2.0 percent and 9.03 percent respectively.

Weak Metals Weigh on Oz Stocks

Australian stocks fell to a one-week closing low as a stronger U.S. dollar weighed on commodities prices and hit miners and gold stocks, and analysts said more volatility could be in store.

Dealers said a view that the U.S. Federal Reserve may begin raising interest rates sooner than previously thought had boosted the U.S. dollar and weighed on the local stock market.

"Some may be taking the view that we could be seeing a potential bottoming of the U.S. dollar... and that's probably a contributor to the equity market uncertainty here today," said
Shaw Stockbroking senior dealer Jamie Spiteri.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 25.7 points to 4,676.5, its lowest close since Nov. 27. The index fell 1.5 percent on Friday.

Gold miners logged steep losses as the gold price continued its retreat in Asian trade, with Newcrest Mining falling 6.0 percent to A$36.00 and Lihir off 4.8 percent to A$3.36.

Miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were pressured by lower metals prices. BHP fell 1.9 percent to A$40.61 and Rio lost 0.4 percent to A$71.59.  They signed a $116 billion iron ore joint venture agreement to combine their Western Australian iron ore operations. The venture still needs to receive regulatory approvals.

Companies that benefit from a stronger U.S. dollar bucked the trend. Clothing retailer Billabong jumped 4.9 percent to A$11.03 and hearing implant maker Cochlear rose 2.8 percent A$65.95.

TAIEX Up 1.6%

Taiwan stocks rose 1.63 percent to a three-week closing high on Monday as investors ignored weekend local election results, with tech shares higher leading the way.

The main TAIEX index ended up 124.73 points at 7,775.64, its highest close since Nov. 16.  

Mediatek topped the most active list by turnover. Taiwan's top chip design house, jumped 5.2 percent after posting market beating November sales.

TSMC, the world's top contract chip maker, climbed 1.63 percent, boosting the semiconductor sub-index by 2.72 percent.

"Investors were focusing on fundamentals, even after the ruling party lost its support in weekend elections," said David Dong, a fund manager of Uni-President Asset Management.

But HTC, the world's No. 4 smartphone maker, lost 2.66 percent lower to a one-month low after a 19 percent fall in its November revenue, raising concerns the firm may not be able to meet its sales forecast for the quarter.

SinoPac Financial advanced 0.8 percent to NT$12.40. The gain came even after it denied a local newspaper report that said Sinopac has targeted Bank International Ningbo of China as one of its first potential partners to expand its business on the mainland.

Hong Kong stocks came under pressure, with gold issues down after gold prices dropped amid a rally in the U.S. dollar which prompted investors to cut positions.

HSI Under Pressure

The benchmark Hang Seng Index shed 0.8 percent to 22,324.96 points.

Commodities retreated after gold, copper prices slumped. Zijin Mining lost 4.23 percent and Realgold Mining shed 4.78 percent.

Aluminum Corp of China was down 1.56 percent and Jiangxi Copper lost 1.47 percent.

Geely Automobile surged 6.3 percent, after it said it would continue to seek acquisition opportunities and was interested in projects, including parts and engines.

China Starch Holdings advanced 5.56 percent, buoyed by a media report that the partner of world's largest dextrose and cornstarch producer Corn Products International plans to double corn starch production capacity to 1.5 million tonnes through mergers and acquisitions or through building its own plant.

China Gas Holdings outperformed the broader market, rallying 4.97 percent after the South China Morning Post reported that it was in talks to sell a stake in its liquefied petroleum gas subsidiary Shanghai PetroPower to PetroChina. PetroChina shares were down 0.2 percent.

Contract cellphone maker Foxconn International rose 3.66 percent on an improving outlook in the U.S. economy.

Maoye International advanced 1.04 percent. The department store operator said on Monday it would buy an additional 7.2 percent of Shenzhen-listed BoHai Logistics, a department store operator in Hebei province, for 170.66 million yuan ($24.99 million). 

Henderson Land shed 1.94 percent on profit-taking. The stock jumped to close near a 19-month high on Thursday after media reported that its chairman said the group planned to invest HK$25 billion in development in coming months and expected a 10 percent rise in Hong Kong home prices next year.

Bank of Communications fell 1.6 percent. The lender said it hoped to set up a branch in Taiwan as soon as possible.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore's Straits Times Index inched up 0.21 percent to 2,796.98 points while the KLCI ended 0.4 percent lower.

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