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Asian Stocks Mostly Higher after Wall St Gains

Most Asian markets gained ground on Wednesday, buoyed by a rebound on Wall Street after economic bellwether General Electric pledged to maintain its dividend.

U.S. markets were also calmed by the Federal Reserve extending emergency credit measures designed to stabilize banks. The main U.S. indices gained more than 3 percent. In Australia, attention is on national carrier Qantas after it announced it was in merger talks with British Airways.

Stronger equity markets pushed both the yen and the U.S. dollar lower, while the yield on U.S. Treasuries stayed near five-decade lows. Crude oil is currently trading below $48 a barrel.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Averageended 1.8 percent higher as the market drew support from the country's retailers. Seven & I Holdings jumped 12 percent following a brokerage upgrade, citing strong convenience store sales and solid results at its financial unit. Bals surged 11.2 percent after it reported a jump in November same-store sales. Fast Retailing shares resumed trading to soar 10.2 percent on news November sales for the clothing chain jumped 32 percent from a year ago. But suffered as a sharp drop in U.S. car sales weighed on the sector, with Honda Motor down 4.7 percent.

Seoul stocks finished flat after a volatile session. The KOSPI fell 0.05 percent, weighed down by automakers and tech giants LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics. But financials rallied, with Hana Financial and Shinhan Financial up over 5 percent each, on news of a state agency's absorption of mutal savings banks' bad assets. Expectations of interest rate cuts boosted construction issues. Daewoo Engineering & Construction jumped over 14.6 percent.

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Australian shares pared gains to close 0.2 percent higher, lifted by gains in retailers such as David Jones amid expectations of further interest rate cuts to boost the domestic economy. Qantas Airways surged as much as 10 percent before closing 4.4 percent firmer on a planned merger with British Airways. Top miner BHP Billiton rose 2.9 percent but its former takeover target Rio Tinto, fell 5.6 percent on growing concerns about its ability to manage its debt. Latest data showed the local economy grew at the slowest rate in eight years lent a cautious note to the market.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index climbed 1.4 percent, as financials rebounded as they tracked their U.S. peers higher. Lower crude prices boosted shares in refiner Sinopec. But property giant Sun Hung Kai was among the laggards after the city's big lenders raised mortgage rates.

Stocks in mainland China advanced 4 percent, after a government fund raised its holdings in China Construction Bank lifted sentiment. Financials led the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index's advance. Shares of coal and non-ferrous metals firms outperformed the broader market, fuelled by hopes that infrastructure spending by Beijing would boost demand for their output.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was up 0.1 percent amid gains in commodity-related firms such as Noble Group. Shares of Koh Brothers surged over 22 percent after the construction firm secured a S$580 million ($379 million) contract to build an underground train station for the local government.

Malaysia's KLCI rose 0.2 percent while Taiwan stocks shed 1.1 percent to a one-week closing low as tech stocks declined.