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Asian Stocks Hit 2-Month High as Risk Returns

Asian stocks hit a two-month high Monday, with investors betting the global economy will start to recover later this year by shedding some of their big holdings of safe-haven government bonds.

The Australian dollar pushed to a three-month high against the U.S. dollar as investors embraced higher-yielding currencies, taking heart from calmer financial markets and expectations for big government stimulus spending packages in coming weeks to revive growth. The dollar edged up across the board, mainly getting a boost as the euro stumbled. Traders said the single currency's surge in December was due more to factors such as investors repatriating funds before year-end and was likely overdone. Commodity prices generally firmed, with oil prices climbing above $47 a barrel on increased tensions in the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average began 2009 on a strong note, closing 2.1 percent higher in a shortened session and hitting a two-month high on hopes this year will be better than last, the worst in the Nikkei's history. Honda Motor and other exporters climbed on a weaker yen . Resource-linked firms such as trading houses surged as oil jumped more than 3 percent, after an Iranian military commander reportedly called on Islamic countries to cut oil exports to supporters of Israel over Israel's ground offensive in the Gaza Strip to stop Hamas rocket attacks.

Seoul shares gained 1.4 percent with banks including KB Financial rallying on expectations of a rate cut, while auto makers advanced on strengthening views their earnings may not be as bad as feared.

Australian stocks finished down 0.7 percent as banks gave up early gains, precious metal miners fell on lower gold prices and investors sold offshore earners likely to be hurt by a stronger Australian dollar.

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Hong Kong shares rose 3.5 percent, with China Mobile rising for a second day on hopes that Chinese telecom operators will soon be issued licences to offer third generation (3G) services. China's Lenovo Group climbed after the Chinese magazine Caijing said the world's No.4 personal computer maker was set to announce a major restructuring plan on Jan. 8 including changes of its top management. Aluminum Corp of China jumped 9.5 percent, tracking similar gains in its Shanghai listed scrip on hopes that it would benefit from the government's infrastructure building plans.

Singapore's Straits Times Index rose 5.2 percent. Shares of plantation firms such as Golden Agri and Wilmar International rose on higher palm oil prices. Benchmark palm oil prices in Malaysia rose 1.5 percent after crude oil climbed on worries over supplies after an Iranian military commander reportedly called for an oil boycott.

China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 3.3 percent, with industrial metal producers leading the gains on hopes they would benefit from the government's infrastructure building plans. Coal producers also outperformed, partly because of a surge in global oil prices due to tensions in the Middle East. Shenhua Energy gained.