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Asian Shares Mixed As Debt Concerns Linger

Asian shares ended mostly higher on Wednesday, paring some early losses, as rising oil prices lifted energy shares and expectations that Beijing will announce more easing measures offset general pessimism about Greece's future despite the approval of a second bailout package. With many hurdles remaining to be cleared, doubts linger that a second massive bailout for Greece would not help contain Europe's debt crisis.

Commodities such as copper and crude were slightly lower and the euro fell against the dollar after data showed China's industrial activity continued to contract albeit at a slower pace.

Tokyo shares rose after a wobbly start, with the Nikkei average rising about a percent to its highest level in more than six and a half months, as the yen's weakness through the 80 level against the U.S. dollar brightened the earnings outlook for exporters. The benchmark index ended above the psychologically important line of 9,500 for the first time since Aug. 4. The broader Topix index of all First Section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended up 1.1 percent at 825.

Mitsubishi Motor climbed 2.1 percent, Nissan Motor advanced 2.3 percent, Sony gained 1.5 percent and Toyota Motor rose 1.8 percent. Olympus soared 5 percent on expectations a new management team being put together will steer the company out of a $1.5 billion accounting scandal.

NTT Docomo added 2 percent on a report the mobile phone carrier has expanded capacity to prevent cellphone service glitches. Tokyo Electron lost a percent on a Nikkei report that semiconductor makers are bracing for a decline in orders in the January to March period.

Chinese shares rose for a fourth day, with benchmark Shanghai Composite index rising 0.9 percent to its highest close since Nov. 29, after Shanghai reportedly eased home purchase restrictions to allow those without local residential permits to purchase a second property in China's financial center.

The "flash" estimates of HSBC's China manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index released today showed an improvement from January, though manufacturing activity contracted for the fourth straight month. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index edged up 0.3 percent, with mainland property developers pacing the gainers.

Australian shares erased early losses to end marginally higher, as solid earnings results and hopes that China may ease policy further outweighed continuing doubts about Greece's future. After spending much of the session in the red, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended up about 2 points or 0.04 percent while the broader All Ordinaries index gained 0.09 percent.

Woodside Petroleum climbed 2.5 percent, Oil Search jumped 3.6 percent and Santos rose 1.4 percent as oil prices climbed to a nine-month high on worries over Iranian oil supplies. CSL advanced 2.5 percent as the blood products and vaccines maker upgraded its profit forecast for the year, citing strong demand for its products.

Asciano jumped 3.2 percent after the ports and rail operator reported a slight dip in interim profit, but said it expects higher earnings in the second half of this financial year. Shares of OneSteel soared nearly 16 percent, adding to steep gains made the day before.

Miners were subdued, with BHP Billiton down 0.1 percent and Rio Tinto falling 0.9 percent. The big four banks ended modestly higher while Suncorp lost 2.1 percent after the banking and insurance group warned of a challenging outlook.

South Korea's Kospi average finished 0.2 percent higher at a fresh six-and-a-half month high on foreign fund buying. Tech shares and telecom firms led the gainers, but drug makers lost ground after Korea and the United States finally agreed to bring the Korea-US free trade agreement into effect on March 15th.

Samsung Electronics rose 1.4 percent to a record closing high. LG Uplus, the nation's smallest telecom carrier, soared 8.4 percent on expectations it will meet its high-speed long term evolution network subscriber target. Autoparts manufacturer Hyundai Mobis rose 1.6 percent and refiner SK Innovation gained 2.4 percent, while pharma shares such as Boryung Pharmaceuticals and Green Cross fell around 3 percent each.

New Zealand shares fell modestly, with Fletcher Building pacing the decliners after the nation's largest construction firm reported a 13 percent drop in its interim net profit and cut its full-year forecast, citing weak demand for home building. Shares of the nation's biggest listed company fell nearly 2 percent, dragging the benchmark NZX-50 index down about 0.3 percent.

Trade Me, the auction website controlled by Australia's Fairfax Media, eased 0.6 percent after the company beat its pretax profit forecast by 2.2 percent. NZ Refining soared 12.5 percent, a day after announcing plans to upgrade the Marsden Point refinery in Northland, its third major upgrade in a decade. New Zealand Oil & Gas added 1.4 percent after the company turned in a first-half profit on reduced impairments from the failed Pike River Coal venture and improved revenue from the Kupe and Tui oil fields.

Elsewhere, India's Sensex was last trading down 1.5 percent on profit taking after recent gains, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was down 0.2 percent, Malaysia's KLSE Composite slipped 0.2 percent and Singapore's Straits Times index lost a percent, but the Taiwan Weighted average added a percent.

On Wall Street, the major averages ended narrowly mixed overnight, with the Dow Jones industrial average briefly touching 13,000 for the first time since May 2008, after EU ministers reached an agreement on a deal that will enable Greece to avoid a default next month.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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