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Asian Stocks End Higher on US Factory Data

Asian stock markets ended modestly higher Wednesday, after upbeat factory orders in the U.S. added to the view that the American economic recovery is on track.

Japan's Nikkei 225 average climbed 0.5 percent to a 15-month closing high, buoyed by more evidence of economic recovery in the form of better-than-expected U.S. factory orders but with gains limited by profit-taking.

Japan Airlines weighed on the market, sliding 6.7 percent after the Nikkei business daily reported the carrier's main creditor and the finance ministry support bankruptcy as a way to restructure the heavily indebted airline.

Banks climbed a day after people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group plans to raise up to $8.7 billion by issuing new shares, with investor
reassurance that the issue will not exceed expectations setting off short-covering.

SMFG rose 5.5 percent to 2,800 yen, while Mitsubishi UFJ Financial gained 4.4 percent to 472 yen and No. 2 bank Mizuho Financial climbed 6.1 percent to 174 yen.

Market players said gains were capped, though, by a sense the Nikkei's recent gains had taken it into overbought territory as well as investor reluctance to trade actively before key U.S.
indicators such as jobs data later this week.

The benchmark Nikkei rose 49.62 points to 10,731.45, its third straight day of gains and a 15-month closing high, but its relative strength index (RSI) was 77, well into overbought territory. The broader Topix gained 1.3 percent to 931.13.

Media reports said that Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii's plans to resign for health reasons could deal a fresh blow for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama as he wrestles with a frail economy and huge public debt. However, market players said the impact was so far minimal.

Resource-linked shares gained a day after oil prices rose above $82 and copper climbed.

Trading house Mitsui & Co rose 1.5 percent to 1,394 yen and fellow trading firm Mitsubishi
Corp
added 2.2 percent to 2,428 yen.

Nintendo rose 6.9 percent to 24,500 yen after the company said sales of its Wii video game console in the United States hit a record high in December, countering market worries that momentum for the three-year-old machine had peaked.

The South Korean market gained ground, helped by techs and shipbuilders. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) finished up 0.87 percent at 1,705.32 points.

Samsung Electronics, the world's No.1 memory chip maker, climbed 2.31 percent to hit its highest close ever at 841,000 won amid a bullish chip and flat panel outlook.

Smaller rival Hynix Semiconductor advanced 5.14 percent, helped further by rises in the key U.S. semiconductor index.

Shipbuilders also rallied following firm gains in the Baltic Dry Index, which tracks the cost of shipping key commodities. Hyundai Heavy Industries gained 3.8 percent and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering advanced 4.25 percent.

Kumho Asiana Group issues, which tanked for the past several sessions following its request for a debt workout programme late last year, bounced after Woori Bank said in a statement on Wednesday a programme for Kumho Industrial had started after approval from a majority of creditors.

Shares in Kumho Industrial ended up 0.5 percent and Kumho Tire gained 0.16 percent. Asiana Airlines rose 3.76 percent.

The Australian share market ended flat, as weakness in some banking stocks offset gains in resources stocks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed 2.9 points lower at 4921.4 points, after striking a high of 4938.5 early in the day.

Resource stocks were buoyed by rising prices in some commodities with optimism about the outlook for demand the main driver for shares.

BHP Billiton shares rose 1.3 percent to A$43.82, Rio Tinto advanced 2.9 percent to A$78.58. Fortescue Metals jumped 13 percent to A$5.20, boosted by growing optimism on the outlook for iron ore prices.

Qantas Airways finished down 0.3 percent at A$2.95 after its low-cost carrier Jetstar agreed to an alliance with Malaysia's AirAsia in a bid to cut costs.

AXA Asia Pacific
climbed 1.2 percent to its highest level in nearly two years and above National Australia Bank's proposed A$6.43 a share cash bid.

Specialty Fashion Group chalked up 11.7 percent to A$1.57 after upgrading its profit forecast but other retailers, including Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi retreated amid concerns that retailers face a tough outlook for the next few months.

Hong Kong shares closed higher for a second straight session, with exporters gaining on hopes about global economic recovery, while bourse operator HKEx rose on optimism that turnover would rise this year.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index ended up 0.62 percent or 137.09 points at 22,416.67, its highest close in more than a month.

Contract cellphone maker Foxconn International surged 7.87 percent. Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing gained 4.78 percent.

China's key stock index shed 0.9 percent as the prospect of more new share supply further weighed on sentiment. The Shanghai Composite Index ended 0.9 percent lower.

Banks were soft amid worries of fundraising in the banking sector. Bank of China lost 1.15 percent to 4.29 yuan after the Hong Kong Economic Times reported it was likely to approve a
capital raising plan in March to boost its adequacy ratio.

The official China Securities Journal reported that 21 Chinese companies are launching stock initial public offerings in the first half of January as the stock regulator has been adding more share supplies to the market in recent months.

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