Asian Stocks Close Higher, Shanghai Sinks

Asian markets closed mostly higher Friday after comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke raised hopes for an interest-rate cut in December, but China's Shanghai Composite Index ended sharply lower as PetroChina and financial stocks fell.

Bernanke said a resurgence in financial strains had dimmed the outlook for the U.S. economy and the Fed would "have to remain exceptionally alert and flexible."

The major miners were higher after copper hit a two-week high on Thursday on hopes that lower U.S. rates would help boost economic growth as well as demand for industrial metals. BHP Billiton,Sumitomo Metal Mining and Korea Zinc climbed more than 3 percent.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average rose 1.1 percent to end at its highest in three weeks as shippers like Mitsui O.S.K. Lines steamed ahead on strong commodities
trade hopes, while a Credit Suisse upgrade lifted steel stocks. A slight retreat in the yen supported the overall market while market players said some hedge funds bought back stocks as they close their books on Friday.


South Korea's KOSPI finished 1.5 percent higher as stronger prospects for a U.S. interest rate cut in December prompted local
institutions to chase distressed exporters such as Hynix Semiconductor and steel giant POSCO.

Australian shares rose 1.4 percent to the highest close in nearly two weeks, with
major banks extending gains on growing expectations of a U.S. rate cut, while miners rose on stronger base metal prices. The S&P/ASX 200 Index added 3.2 percent on the week to log its first weekly gain in seven weeks. However, it fell 3.3 percent in November, its first monthly decline since July and its biggest monthly percentage fall since May 2006.

Singapore's Straits Times Index finished 1.2 percent higher with shares of Chinese shipbuilding firms like Yangzijiang Shipbuilding and Cosco advancing after Credit Suisse initiated coverage of the stocks with an "outperform" rating.

Property stocks lifted Hong Kong blue chips after Bernanke's comments cemented expectations that the U.S. central bank was willing to cut interest rates again in December. China plays rose as investors further bid up shares of Ping An Insurance, a day after China's second-largest life insurer said it bought a 4.2 percent stake in Dutch-Belgian financial services firm Fortis for $2.7 billion.

China's Shanghai Composite Index closed 2.6 percent lower, having gained 4.2 percent in the previous session, as large-cap stocks such as PetroChina and financials dragged down the index.