Mideast Unrest Triggers Profit Taking in Asia

Asian shares mostly eased on Monday as spreading tensions in Libya and other oil-producing regions encouraged some mild profit taking after last week's solid gains.

Further increases in oil prices may see selling pressure intensify in regional markets which have only recently begun to recover from a sharp selloff in the opening weeks of 2011.

In China, Beijing's latest move to tighten policy in the form of raising bank's required reserves saw Shanghai and Hong Kong stocks slip early, but Shanghai later reversed the losses, rising about 0.6 percent.

Japan's stocks ended marginally higher to extend its gains into a sixth day, with bargain hunters helping to erase early losses although investors were reluctant to buy shares actively ahead of a U.S. public holiday and amid turmoil in the Middle East.

The Nikkei is hovering near a 9-½ month peak and has been struggling to move decisively higher after gaining more than 6 percent this year. It is the best performing Asian market so far in 2011, while Asian stocks outside Japan are down 1.4 percent for the year to date, largely due to inflation worries.

The benchmark Nikkei ended up 0.1 percent or 14.73 points at 10,857.53. The broader Topix index was 0.1 percent higher at 974.63.

Seoul shares slipped, weighed by falls in steelmakers and financials such as POSCO and KB Financial Group, but shipyards climbed on sustained order momentum.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended down 0.39 percent at 2,005.30 points.

Australian shares fell 0.7 percent as investors sold stocks with exposure to China after more monetary tightening there, and political upheaval in the Middle East encouraged investor conservatism.

Refiner Caltex Australia outperformed with a 7 percent rally, its highest close since June 2008, after it said it was optimistic on refiner margins.

Top miners and exporters BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto fell over 1.5 percent.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 lost 36.7 points to 4,900, according to the latest data.

Investors were also focusing on a A$2 billion move by West Australian Newspapers to buy Seven Media Groupto create Australia's largest listed television and newspaper company.

Shares in Seven rose 2.3 percent to A$9.30 and earlier hit a record high of A$9.44.

Shares in Ten Network fell 2.5 percent to A$1.355. Broadcaster Southern Cross Media fell 1 percent while radio group Austereo dropped 2.8 percent.

BlueScope Steel fell 3 percent to A$2.30 after it said its first-half loss widened and conditions remained difficult. It forecast a flat second half.

Global traffic safety company Redflex Holdings rallied 16 percent to A$2.59 after the Carlyle Group and Australian investment bank Macquarie Group agreed to buy it for $304 million.

Carlyle and Macquarie will pay A$2.70 per share. Macquarie stock was down 1.4 percent at A$38.80.

Packaging group Amcor rose 1.9 percent at A$6.85 after beating forecasts with a 55 percent jump in first-half underlying profit.

Freight rail business QR National gained 1.6 percent to A$3.15. It signed a 10-year contract with Jellinbah Resources to haul up to 6 million tonnes a year of coal, generating revenue over A$600 million.

Singapore shares fell as China's latest tightening policy outweighed the Singapore government budget

By mid day, the Straits Times Index (STI) was down 0.46 percent. The total value of shares traded in the morning session was S$706.2 million, lower than S$808 million on Friday.

Singapore last Friday announced a budget brimming with handouts for poorer citizens, with an eye on elections that are widely expected in the second quarter and the social impact of rapidly rising prices.

The FTSE CNBC 100 Index dipped 0.3 percent.