Asia Kicks Off 2010 Higher, Nikkei Leads

Asian stock markets kick off a new year on an upbeat note as investors counted on a sustainable global recovery.

Markets will be focused on U.S. economic data due later in the week, including the U.S. employment report for December, that could add to optimism about the economy.

Japan's Nikkei Average gained 1 percent, with exporters such as Honda Motor up on a weaker yen after U.S. jobless claims data strengthened hopes for a steady economic recovery.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange appeared to have a smooth start to its $145 million new "Arrowhead" trading system, as Asia's biggest bourse targets a dramatic increase in speed to
revive its business and reputation.

Japan Airlines jumped 39 percent after media reported that the state-owned Development Bank of Japan would double its credit line for the struggling airline to 200 billion yen ($2.2 billion).

Toko Electric Corp, a maker of electricity distribution equipment such as transformers, climbed 17.1 percent to 548 yen as investors chased companies that could benefit from "smart grid" infrastructure investment.

Smart grids, which help to manage electricity use more efficiently, have drawn investor interest as utilities step up spending on projects that reduce energy costs.

Electric meter maker Osaki Electric rose 15.4 percent to 958yen and Takaoka Electric, which offers power transmission gear, added 13.7 percent to 316 yen.

Consumer lender Aiful Corp opened up 0.8 percent after the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) voted on Dec. 30 in favor of an auction to settle some $1.3
billion in credit derivatives contracts on Aiful.

Exporters such as Sony and Canon rose due to weaker yen. The dollar hovered below 93 yen this session, just off a four-month high.

The Nikkei gained 84.44 points to 10,630.88, while the broader Topix rose 0.8 percent to

In Australia, shares were modestly higher, with gains in defensive stocks such as phone company Telstra and retailer Woolworths offsetting small declines in banks and miners.

Energy stocks benefited from a jump in the price of oil. Woodside Petroleum rose 0.9 percent and Santos climbed 1.2 percent.

Analysts said concerns over the impact of Aussie dollar's sharp rise on corporate profits could limit gains.

The S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.1 percent at 4,876.25 points, following last year's 31 percent surge.

South Korea's KOSPI drifted at the border, last quoted up 0.1 percent at 1,685.8 points.

Traders remained nervous about cash-strapped Kumho Asiana Group. Its unit Kumho Tire was on trading halt amid rumors of its bankruptcy. An official at main creditor Korea Development Bank said Kumho Tire is not bankrupt and that its debts have been frozen as part of a debt workout program.

China's key Shanghai Composite index ended down 1 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.2 percent.

Huaneng Power climbed 0.9 percent after the Chinese power producer announced it would buy stakes in power and port operators amounting to $1.2 billion.

City Telecom advanced 3.5 percent. The company said on December 31 that it had submitted an application to the Broadcasting Authority, to provide free television programme services in Hong Kong. The company is estimated to spend HK$210 million before reaching positive free cash flow.

Singapore's STI was flat while Malaysia's KLCI rose 0.2 percent.

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