Asian Markets Mostly Higher, Quake Weighs on China

Asian markets closed mostly higher Tuesday with financials moving up, bolstered by further signals the worst of the credit crisis may now be over. But Chinese markets were weighed down by uncertainty following a devastating earthquake in Sichuan. Still, the quake failed to have an impact elsewhere in the region amid expectations the economic fallout will be limited.

Trading was subdued for the most part, with the dollar steadying against the yen ahead of April U.S. retail sales data due out later in the day, as well as a speech from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Tech stocks rose following news that Hewlett-Packard is close to a deal to buy Electronic Data Systems for up to $13 billion. Hopes of higher business spending on technology also help lift the sector after BlackBerry maker Research in Motion introduced a new product.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average climbed 1.5 percent for a second day of gains as investors sought out Nikon and other shares with good results, while exporters gained as the dollar rose. Shares of Fujitsu finished up 13 percent after the electronics group on Monday forecast annual net profit to more than double this year, helped by gains in IT outsourcing and its consulting business.

Seoul shares closed 1 percent higher with gains by steel makers on expectations of further steel price hikes outweighing losses by shipbuilders on worries about rising raw material prices and economic slowdown. Techs such as Samsung Electronics climbed, tracking higher U.S. peers.

Australian shares slipped 0.3 percent, ending a three-day winning streak, as weaker commodity prices pressured resource firms, though St George Bank surged on an A$18.6 billion ($17.6 billion) offer from Westpac Banking Corp.

Hong Kong stocks rose 2 percent, led by HSBC Holdings after it posted better-than-expected results, while investors expected the market impact of an earthquake in southwest China to be limited. PICC Property and Casualty Co, China's largest non-life underwriter, fell after the earthquake, but the country's top cement maker Anhui Conch jumped 5.5 percent. Companies based in China's Sichuan province or nearby Chongqing city, including Sichuan Expressway, Dongfang Electrical and Chongqing Iron & Steel, were suspended after the earthquake.

Singapore's Straits Times Index moved higher with Wilmar International gaining 1.2 percent after the firm posted a seven-fold jump in first-quarter net profit, on high palm oil prices and sales and said that it was optimistic on the outlook.

China's Shanghai Composite Index was 1.8 percent lower, led by banking stocks on uncertainty following a deadly earthquake in southwest China on Monday and the central bank's announcement of the fourth bank reserve ratio hike this year. China Life Insurance fell 4.7 percent.

China's two main stock exchanges suspended share trade in 66 companies from southwest China's Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality, the official Shanghai Securities News said. It said 45 shares would be suspended on the Shanghai stock exchange and 21 on the Shenzhen exchange.