Asian Markets Close Mixed, Japan Ends Down

Asian closed mixed, with some boosted by resources companies such as BHP Billiton as oil and commodities prices firmed. But Tokyo closed down, staying on course to end the year as the world's worst performing major stock market.

With many investors away for the year-end holidays the U.S. dollar rifted sideways in thin trade after sliding overnight against the euro and a basket of major currencies. Oil traded around $96 a barrel, having risen 2 percent Wednesday ahead of a U.S. government report expected to show crude stocks had fallen and as Turkish war planes bombed Kurdish guerrilla targets in northern Iraq.

Strength in oil and metals lifted stocks in Australia, with the S&P/ASX 200 Index finishing 0.4 percent. All ten of the stocks that posted the biggest percentage gains were miners or oil companies, such as Woodside Petroleum. But strong post-Christmas sales crowds did not help retailers' share prices, with upmarket department store chain David Jones slipping.


Japanese stocks snapped a four-day winning streak. The Nikkei 225 Average closed 0.5 percent lower as investors locked in profits in recent gainers such as Mitsui Fudosan and other property firms in holiday-thinned trade, with Tokyo set to end the year as the world's worst performing major stock market.

South Korea's KOSPI erased early losses to end 0.1 percent higher, as brokerages rallied on optimism equities trading would continue to rise next year, while lenders such as Kookmin Bank fell as investors locked in profits.

Hong Kong blue chips gave up early gains to fall 1 percent, but strong telecom and commodity stocks boosted China plays. Blue chips fell in the middle of the morning session, tracking losses in Japan's equity market, Asia's largest, and led by a drop in China Mobile. However, other telecom shares jumped after China's cabinet approved a plan on new-generation wireless technology, triggering speculation that the government will split China Unicom and award 3G licenses to fixed-line operators.

Singapore's Straits Times Index ended slightly higher after overcoming losses in a morning in quiet trade. Bank stocks edged higher.

And China's Shanghai Composite Index finished up 1.44% as financial and property shares rebounded, while telecommunications-related shares jumped in active turnover.