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Major Asian markets close higher; Nikkei, Kospi erase losses

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Asian equities closed higher on the second day of 2015's final week, after the Japanese and South Korean markets erased morning losses and the Chinese market eventually closed higher, following a volatile trading session.

Down Under, the Australian market totted up a more than 1 percent gain.

The positive closes were a turnaround from earlier in the session, when analysts pointed to the overnight sell-off in oil and yesterday afternoon's drop in Chinese markets as weighing on sentiment in Asia markets Tuesday.

"Asian markets have looked past the wobble in oil prices and Chinese data yesterday to push tentatively into the green," said Angus Nicholson, a market analyst at spreadbetter IG.

"However, volumes are very low throughout the region, even lower than the pre-Christmas trade last week, so it is difficult to read too much into them. The major drag on markets today has come from the energy and materials sectors."

Oil prices got a slight reprieve in late Asian trading hours. U.S. crude futures for February delivery tacked a 0.46 percent gain to trade at $36.98 a barrel, following a 3.4 percent decline overnight. The internationally traded Brent futures gained 0.49 percent to trade at $36.80 a barrel.

Energy plays across Asia were mixed, with Australia's Oil Search closing down 0.6 percent and Japan's Inpex and Japan Petroleum closing up 0.85 and up 1.73 percent respectively. Woodside Petroleum finished up 0.8 percent. Chinese oil plays including PetroChina, and Sinopec traded own.

"Oil was yet another decisive bearish trigger; especially given that the pre-Christmas run-up above $38 was celebrated, the slide back towards mid-$36 hurt," Vishnu Varathan from Mizuho Bank said in a note.

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

Chinese markets trade up despite volatile momentum

Chinese markets finished in positive territory despite volatility throughout the trading session. The main Shanghai Composite index tacked on a 0.85 percent gain at market close. On Monday, the index saw a 2.6 percent loss as a result of a late-afternoon selloff.

IG's Nicholson said it wasn't clear what set off the Shanghai Composite's drop on Monday, although he noted that data released Sunday showed industrial profits fell at big mainland companies, while changes to rules for initial public offerings (IPO) may mean more issuance to sop up market liquidity.

"These concerns do not look to be weighing overly heavily on the Chinese markets today," he said.

The smaller Shenzhen Composite closed up 0.95 percent at 2,330. Away from the mainland, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index maintained its positive run, up 0.34 percent.

Before trade, the People's Bank of China set the official yuan mid-point rate at 6.4864 per dollar, the lowest since June 2011 and 0.2 percent weaker than the previous fix of 6.4750. The yuan traded nearly flat at 6.4856 against the dollar.

Mainland brokerage shares finished in positive territory, with Haitong Securities up 1.82 percent.

Shares of China's Hua Xia Bank closed up 3.23 percent after reports said that Deutsche Bank agreed to sell its 20 percent stake in the bank to insurance company PICC Property and Casualty. Hong Kong-listed shares of PICC P&C were down 1.6 percent.

In Hong Kong, shares of Imagi International Holdings, which owns the Imagi Animation Studios, finished up 9.8 percent after the company said it appointed non-executive director Leung Pak To as its chairman. Leung replaces former chairman Shan Jiuliang, whose whereabouts have been unknown since mid-October.

H-shares of Evergrande Real Estate Group, which resumed trading in the afternoon, climbed 3.65 percent late afternoon but finished lower. Reports said the company announced several new agreements and purchases on Tuesday with Chow Tai Fook Enterprises and New World Development.

ASX closes 1% up after four-day break

The Australian ASX 200 index gained 60 points, or 1.15 percent, at 5,267 in afternoon trade, after returning from a four-day break. The market was closed Friday and Monday.

All sectors finished in the green except for materials, which trimmed intraday losses of over 1 percent to close down 0.16 percent.

Two of Australia's biggest miners, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, fell 2.57 and 1.25 percent respectively.

Iron ore prices continued to see some end-year respite, with the Qingdao Iron ore prices climbing to $41.30 on Monday, up 7.8 percent since December 11. But the steel-making commodity has lost as much as 44 percent this year due to global oversupply and shrinking Chinese steel demand.

In his morning note, IG's Nicholson said, "Iron ore stockpiles at Chinese ports have now reached their highest level in seven months. China's Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC) rallied markets last week on plans for more stimulus. But markets seem to have ignored the statement's commitment to cutting Chinese industrial over-capacity."

Iron-ore producers closed mostly down, with Fortescue seeing losses of 1.85 percent.

The Australian dollar traded higher at 0.7263 against the U.S. dollar.

Nikkei, Kospi retrace losses

The Japanese market erased early losses as the benchmark Nikkei 225 finished up 109 points, or 0.58 percent, at 18,982.

Toshiba, still recovering from a $1.3 billion accounting scandal, confirmed it will ask for an additional 300 billion yen ($2.49 billion) in credit lines for further restructuring plans. Toshiba shares were up 2.7 percent after dropping more than 15 percent last week to multi-year lows.

The Japanese yen was trading nearly flat, with the dollar-yen pair down 0.07 percent at 120.31.

Major export stocks such as Toyota, Sony, and Honda closed mixed after seeing losses in the morning.

In South Korea, the Kospi retraced its morning losses to close 0.1 percent higher.

Most Samsung Group shares finished in the green, with Samsung Engineering up 29.7 percent at market close. Reuters reported that the company said late on Monday that it had won two contracts from Samsung Electronics worth $448.4 million.

Recently the company also won a contract with Mexican state-controlled oil company Pemex to provide services for a refinery in Salamanca. On Monday, Samsung released some details of the contract in a filing with the Korean stock exchange.

Samsung Electronics, however, closed down 0.95 percent. Reports said the consumer electronics giant, seeking to grow beyond smartphones, announced it had developed a new chip that measure and compile a user's biometric data on wearable devices.

U.S. stocks closed lower in light volume trade on Monday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 23.9 points, or 0.14 percent, at 17,528.27. The S&P 500 closed down 4.49 points, or 0.22 percent, at 2,056.50, while the Nasdaq Composite shed 7.51 points, or 0.15 percent, to close at 5,040.99.

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