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Asian Stocks End Higher, US Jobs Data Eyed

Asian stock markets ended mostly higher on Friday ahead of key data out of the U.S. that is expected to show the American economy has stopped shedding jobs.

Japan's Nikkei stock average hit a 15-month high in active trade, with chip-related shares climbing on increasing global demand for high-tech products, but gains were capped by profit-taking ahead of key U.S. jobs data.

Japan Airlines dived nearly 12 percent to 67 yen on growing bankruptcy worries, with the Nikkei business daily saying the government has firmed up its stance to put JAL through a
bankruptcy procedure as part of a plan led by a state-backed turnaround fund.

The newspaper said the government would finalize its decision as early as Jan. 12 and the carrier could file for bankruptcy around Jan. 19.

Exporters advanced on the back of the dollar's earlier rise to its highest level since August against the yen. Investors welcome a weaker yen because it boosts exporter profits when repatriated.

Honda Motor rose 3.1 percent to 3,185 yen, Toyota Motor climbed 2.9 percent to 3,960 yen and Nissan Motor gained 2.2 percent to 807 yen.

Chip-test maker Advantest advanced 3.7 percent to 2,457 yen and Tokyo Electron gained 2 percent to 6,000 yen.

The dollar hit a four-month high against the yen early on Friday, but gave back some ground after Finance Minister Naoto Kan said currency levels should be determined by markets,
backtracking from his earlier call for a weaker yen after an apparent rebuke from the prime minister.

The benchmark index rose 1.1 percent or 116.66 points to 10,798.32 after earlier climbing as far as 10,816.45, its highest since October 2008. It rose 2.4 percent on the week for its sixth straight week of gains.

The broader Topix rose 1 percent to 941.29.

Seoul shares turned higher, helped by rises in shipbuilders. Analysts said the Bank of Korea's decision to keep the interest rate unchanged had a neutral impact on stock markets, but investors were looking for signs of the central bank's next move.

South Korea's central bank on Friday kept its key interest rate unchanged at record-low 2.0 percent for an 11th month amid a growing conflict with a government opposed to early monetary tightening.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) finished up 0.7 percent at 1,695.26 points.

Shares in Hyundai Heavy Industries rose 5.67 percent, and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering gained 3.05 percent.

Financials rebounded, lending support to the index. Shinhan Financial rose 1.95 percent, and Samsung Securities advanced 3.54 percent.

LG Electronics continued retreating for a fourth straight session as worries about its smartphone business weighed on shares. The world's No.3 handset maker lost 3.5 percent to end at 111,000 won, the lowest close in more than a month.

Shares in Dongkuk Steel tumbled after local media reports the steelmaker was interested in purchasing a stake in Daewoo Engineering & Construction, which a Dongkuk Steel official confirmed.

Creditors led by state-owned Korea Development Bank will take over a majority of Daewoo Engineering from its parent Kumho Asiana Group, under a debt restructuring programme for Kumho which was announced last week. KDB is looking for a strategic investor which will participate in their joint acquisition of the builder.

Australian stocks rose slightly , taking gains to four straight weeks, as investors bet that the global recovery will help the Australian economy.

Financials, which were beaten down over the past several days, lifted the index, while resources slipped on falling metals prices after Chinese monetary policy tightening raised fears of falling demand.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 12.7 points to 4,912.10. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index climbed 0.8 percent to 3,310.23.

Investors were cautious ahead of key U.S. non-farm payroll data due later on Friday, with the latest Reuters poll suggesting the U.S. economy stopped shedding jobs in December, for the first time since it fell into recession two years ago.

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group rose 0.6 percent to A$22.25, Westpac was up 0.4 percent at A$25.15, Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 1.3 percent to A$56.16.

National Australia Bank, which is in a $12 billion takeover tussle with AMP for AXA Asia Pacific, fell 0.3 percent to A$26.90.

Among resources stocks, iron ore miner Fortescue Metals fell 2.1 percent to A$5.06, gold miner Newcrest Mining lost 2.6 percent to A$36.20 and energy firm Santos fell 1 percent to A$14.29.

Shares in New Zealand-based jeweler Michael Hill International surged 10.6 percent to NZ$0.73 after the company said trading during the key Christmas period had been good.

Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng Index edged up 0.3 percent at 22,344.8 points in morning trade.

Shares of Hutchison Telecom surged 29 percent when they resumed trade after being suspended on Monday. Parent Hutchison Whampoa said it would pay HK$2.20 per share to its telecommunications unit to take the company private.

China Overseas Land climbed 1.08 percent. The top developer in China said total property sales for 2009 rose 80 percent from a year earlier, further evidence of the country's booming
real estate market.

Henderson Land was up 1.2 percent on news the company and New World Development had agreed to pay the HK$2.5 billion land premium for converting an agricultural site in Yuen
Long for residential use. New World was down 0.13 percent.

Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing extended gains, up 1.2 percent on expectations the volume of trade on the city's bourse would rise this year, with a string of IPOs planned in coming months.

Gold counters Realgold Mining fell 2.08 percent and Zijin Mining shed 1.85 percent after the prices of oil and gold eased on a stronger U.S. dollar.

Aluminum Corp of China (Chalco) also decline as investors took profit following a recent rally. China's biggest aluminum firm had not had any notification that cold weather might cause potential power stoppages, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

China shares remained weak on policy worries, led by a continued selloff in metal stocks after Shanghai base metal futures fell sharply.

The Shanghai Composite came off morning losses and crawled to positive ground. The index edged up 0.1 percent at 3,195.9 points

Investors were cautious after China's central bank unexpectedly hiked rates at a three-month bill auction on Thursday. Traders said this could signal the start of monetary tightening.

Singapore stocks inched higher following the Dow's climb to new 15-month highs, but gains were limited by tonight's closely-watched U.S. December jobs report.

The Straits Times Index advanced 0.3 percent at 2922.76. Wilmar International was top percentage gainer among blue chips, rising 2.2 percent at S$6.91, following upgrade in target price by Goldman Sachs.

Malaysia's KLCI was flat at 1,292.98 points.

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