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Asian Shares Advance On US Data, Greece Optimism

Asian shares rose across the board on Friday after encouraging data on the U.S. housing and labor markets as well as the broader economy sent Wall Street to its highest level this year. Sentiment also improved following reports that the the Greek bailout talks remained on track and that a second bailout deal for the cash-strapped nation will be approved on Monday.

Oil futures extended gains above $102 a barrel and the safe-haven dollar slid against the euro following unconfirmed reports that the European Central Bank would swap its Greek bond holdings to ease pressure on the beleaguered nation.

Tokyo shares rallied, as solid U.S. economic data weakened the yen to a 3 1/2 month low against the dollar, helping lift export-related shares. Automaker Honda Motor rose 2.4 percent, industrial robot maker Fanuc added 2.8 percent, electronics giant Panasonic gained 3.7 percent and tech firm Nikon Corp. advanced 3.9 percent. The Nikkei average jumped 1.6 percent to a fresh six-month high while the broader Topix index finished up 1.3 percent.

Bridgestone soared 4 percent after the tire maker said it expects net profit to jump more than 60 percent this year despite the impact of the strong yen and volatile raw material costs. Uny jumped 6.6 percent after the department-store operator said it would offer 1,780 yen per share to buy shares it currently doesn't own in Circle K Sunkus Co. Shares of Trend Micro, a global cloud security leader, plunged 8.8 percent after the company forecast a 32.4 percent fall in its group net profit for the first quarter of fiscal 2012.

China's Shanghai Composite index ended little changed with a positive bias as investors were skeptical that Beijing will further ease credit and investment curbs to boost slowing economic growth. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose a percent, posting its seventh consecutive weekly gain.

Australian shares rose, with declines in miners and banks capping the upside. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent and the broader All Ordinaries index edged up 0.4 percent. Among the major miners, BHP Billiton slipped 0.3 percent, Rio Tinto dropped 1.1 percent, Fortescue edged down 0.4 percent and Newcrest ended down half a percent.

ANZ rose 1.7 percent after reporting a first-quarter net profit of A$1.7 billion (US$1.8 billion), in line with estimates. NAB edged up 0.4 percent, but Commonwealth shed 0.3 percent and Westpac lost 0.4 percent. Billabong soared 46 percent as the surfwear retailer left the door open for takeover offers after shedding 400 jobs worldwide. Harvey Norman rose 1.8 percent and David Jones rallied 3.4 percent. Pacific Brands rose 1.5 percent even as the clothing maker said it is bracing for a trying second half.

South Korea's Kospi average ended 1.3 percent higher, led by large-cap tech shares, as encouraging U.S. economic data and growing optimism over Greece underpinned sentiment. Samsung Electronics jumped 3.6 percent to a record closing high, rival Hynix rose half a percent, LG Display rallied 3.7 percent and LG Electronics ended up 1.9 percent.

Woori Finance Holdings advanced 3.4 percent after the financial services firm posted an almost sevenfold jump in its fourth-quarter profit. KBFinancialGroup and ShinhanGroup rose around a percent each, Hyundai Motor, South Korea's largest automaker, added 1.8 percent and its affiliate Kia Motors gained 4.4 percent.

New Zealand shares posted modest gains, with the benchmark NZX-50 rising 0.1 percent as investors hoped Greece will secure its second bailout. Michael Hill International climbed 3.4 percent after the jeweler yesterday posted an 11.5 percent rise in its interim net profit. Gold miner OceanaGold advanced 2.8 percent after reporting record annual sales, benefiting from peaking world gold prices during the year.

Goodman Fielder jumped 4.9 percent, clawing back much of Thursday's 6.2 percent loss, after the Australian breads and spreads maker unveiled plans to slash jobs at its New Zealand operations. Rural services firm PGG Wrightson lost 2.6 percent, outdoor clothing and equipment retailer Kathmandu Holdings fell 2.2 percent and Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, eased 0.9 percent while carpet maker Cavalier ended unchanged.

Elsewhere, India's Sensex was last trading up 0.8 percent, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was up 1.3 percent, Malaysia's KLSE Composite gained half a percent, Singapore's Straits Times edged up 0.7 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average ended up 0.3 percent.

U.S. stocks rose to their highest levels of the year overnight, with the Dow hitting a near four-year high, as investors cheered upbeat economic data on new claims for unemployment benefits, housing starts and regional manufacturing activity. Reports that a Greek debt-swap deal is likely on Monday also helped bolster investor sentiment.

The Dow added a percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 1.5 percent and the S&P 500 advanced 1.1 percent, posting its strongest percentage gain in two weeks.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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