Asian Shares Mixed; Nikkei at 7-Month High

ASX 200
CNBC 100

Asian shares were mixed on Thursday after U.S. President Barack Obama said a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff of year-end tax hikes and spending cuts was possible in "about a week" if Republicans compromise on taxes.

The FTSE CNBC Asia 100 Index was flat, inching up 0.02 percent.

The Nikkei average climbed to a seven-month closing high above the 9,500 mark on Thursday, encouraged by a yen kept weaker though persistent speculation the central bank would adopt bolder action to pull Japan out of deflation under a likely new government.

The benchmark index closed up 0.8 percent to 9,545.1, the highest closing level since April 26 while the broader Topix also gained 0.8 percent to 788.7 points.

Exporters in demand on Thursday included Toyota Motor, camera and printer maker Canon, air conditioner maker Daikin Industries and Honda Motor, up between 0.9 and 3.5 percent.

Sharp soared nearly 10 percent to a two-month high after a Taiwan newspaper quoted Hon Hai Precision Industry chairman as saying that Qualcomm's tie-up with the struggling TV maker will not affect Hon Hai's talks with Sharp to become its biggest shareholder.

Adding to the positive mood, sentiment among Japanese manufacturers has edged up for the first time since July, a Reuters poll showed, in a sign that the economy may have bottomed out even as sluggish global demand continues to weigh on business confidence.

Seoul shares rose marginally to touch a fresh seven-week high on Thursday, led by gains in steel stocks, as investors waited on signs of progress in stalled U.S. budget talks.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) edged up 0.13 percent to 1,949.62 points, its highest closing level since Oct.18.

South Korea's top steelmaker POSCO firmed 2.95 percent, while second-ranked Hyundai Steel rose 4.7 percent.

South Korea's economy grew just 0.1 percent in the July-September period from the previous quarter, revised data showed on Thursday, a slight downgrade from an earlier estimate and the slowest in three and a half years.

LG Electronics and Samsung SDI slumped 1.4 and 1.6 percent respectively after the European Commission imposed its biggest antitrust fine of 1.47 billion euros ($1.92 billion) on the two Korean firms and four others for running two cartels on cathode ray tubes.

Index heavyweight Samsung Electronics inched down 0.07 percent after hitting a fresh intraday high of 1.471 million won ($1,400) earlier in the session.

Australian shares slipped 0.3 percent on Thursday, led by weakness in the banking sector after investors ignored surprisingly strong jobs data and worried that the central bank may not have done enough to shore up the domestic economy.

Australian employment outstripped expectations for a second month in November and the jobless rate surprised everyone with a drop to 5.2 percent, an encouraging report that could lessen the urgency for more rate cuts.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index finished 11.1 points lower to 4,509.3. The benchmark rose 0.4 percent on Wednesday.

Banks were soft, with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia losing the most, down 1.2 percent. Some defensives were weak with telecommunications giant Telstra dropping 0.2 percent while supermarket giant Woolworths lost 0.4 percent.

The Reserve Bank of Australia cut its main cash rate to 3 percent at its monthly policy meeting on Tuesday, equaling the low hit during the global financial crisis.

Bellwether miners BHP Billiton and rival Rio Tinto helped pare losses, gaining 0.4 percent and 1 percent respectively.

TV broadcaster Ten Network remains on a trading halt after announcing a capital raising of A$230 million as it looks to cut costs following a poor performance in a weak advertising market.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.4 percent, or 16.1 points to 4.023.4.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand held its official cash rate at a record low 2.5 percent this morning, as widely expected, but said it expected inflation pressures to pick up, suggesting more risk of a rate rise than a cut over time.

China shares ended lower, slipping from a three-week high, as weakness in alcohol producers offset gains in financials and other policy-related sectors.

The CSI300 of top Shanghai and Shenzhen listings closed down 0.2 percent while the Shanghai Composite Index finished down 0.1 percent.

Hong Kong shares edged lower, dragged down by financials and a weak day for mainland markets as investors paused after the previous session's jump to a three-week high.

The Hang Seng Index ended the day down 0.1 percent at 22,249.81 The China Enterprises Index of top locally listed mainland firms rose 0.3 percent, helped by gains in infrastructure stocks and mid-sized Chinese banks.

Financials were on the backfoot with HSBC off 0.5 percent after Reuters reported that Europe's largest bank may pay a $1.8 billion fine to U.S regulators as part of a settlement over money laundering lapses.

Shares of AIA eased 0.3 percent ahead of the expiration of a lock-up on AIA shares for American International Group when the U.S. insurer will be free to sell a stake worth $6.4 billion at current market prices.

In India, the BSE Index and the NSE Index ended up 0.6 percent.

Singapore's Straits Times Index edged up 0.1 percent while Malaysia's KL Composite Index gained 0.2 percent.