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Asia equities close mixed with Nikkei posting gains despite regional tensions

* U.S. sends aircraft carrier battle group near Korea peninsula.

* LG Display gains on Google investment news.

Asian equities finished mixed in Monday trade on the back of heightened geopolitical tensions after a move by the U.S. military to send an aircraft carrier group near the Korean Peninsula and a U.S. missile strike in Syria last Friday.

North Korea responded to the U.S. strike on a Syrian airbase by stating that it was a justification for its own nuclear weapons program, adding that it had to protect itself against Washington's "reckless moves for a war." A U.S. Navy strike group is expected to move closer to the Korean peninsula following North Korea's multiple nuclear missile test launches.

The news did not weigh on Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index, which rose by 0.71 percent or 133.25 points to finish at 18,797.88. Japanese automakers were higher on the back of a weaker yen, with Mazda Motor leading gains and up by 1.96 percent to close at 1,531.5 yen per share.

Suzuki Motor shares closed higher by 1.44 percent at 4,580 yen a share. "While the shares have come a long way ... they remain attractive at the current level, in light of the prospects for longer-term demand growth in India and the rock-solid dealer network Suzuki has build there, the company's low risk-weighting to the U.S. market, and global sales trends," Citi's Arifumi Yoshida, Yingqiu Zhang and Manabu Hagiwara said in a note.

Likewise, the ASX 200 bounced 0.86 percent or 50.431 points to close at 5,912.900, driven by its materials and utilities sub-indexes which rose 2.08 percent and 1.19 percent respectively.

Miner Rio Tinto paid $4 billion in taxes and royalties last year and was ordered to pay an extra $284 million with interest due to its operations in tax-friendly destinations. The news comes as the Australian Taxation Office pays greater attention to the amount of taxes paid by multinational corporations in Australia. Rio Tinto was up by 1.42 percent and finished at A$60.86 a stock.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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The Kospi was down by 0.86 percent or 18.41 points to finish at 2,133.32, with China-exposed stocks pressured following heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula. Shares for Lotte Shopping, the retail arm of conglomerate Lotte, tumbled 2.72 percent to close at 214,500 won per stock, while shares of LG Electronics plunged 4.23 percent to finish at 67,900 won.

Shares of LG Display, LG Corporation's LCD manufacturing arm, rose by 0.84 percent to close at 30,100 won on a reported offer from Google to invest $1 trillion won ($880.29 million) to increase organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen production for Google's Pixel smartphones, the Electronic Times said. LG Display did not respond to an email request for confirmation about the investment.

Mainland Chinese markets ended trade lower, with the Shanghai Composite declining 0.5 percent or 16.5 points to finish at 3,270.12, and the Shenzhen Composite falling 0.978 percent or 19.83 points to close at 2,008.5. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index traded 0.1 percent lower at 3:05 pm HK/SIN time.

The dollar was higher against a basket of currencies at 101.190 against a session high of 101.34 at 2:05 pm HK/SIN time, its highest level in nearly 3 weeks. The dollar/yen traded at 111.41, higher compared to levels around 110.86 seen last week while the Aussie was softer at $0.7491, versus the $0.76 handle seen last week.

On the energy front, Brent crude was up 0.38 percent at $55.45 a barrel while U.S. crude was higher by 0.46 percent to $52.48 a barrel.

In Japan, the February un-adjusted current account balance surplus jumped to the largest since March 2016 at 2.814 trillion yen, compared to 2.616 trillion yen seen.

Stateside, U.S. equities closed flat, with the S&P 500 shedding 0.08 percent to 2,355.54 points, the Dow Jones industrial average tracking lower by 0.03 percent to close at 20,656.10 and the Nasdaq down by 0.02 percent to finish at 5,877.81. This was also on the back of a mixed jobs report, which saw just 98,000 jobs added in March, below expectations of 180,000 new jobs.

"Now that the U.S. nonfarm payroll is over, traders are going to put their focus back on the Fed, who have been talking about winding down their balance sheet," Think Markets chief market analyst Naeem Aslam said in a note.