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Asian Shares End Mixed Ahead Of Easter Weekend

Most Asian stocks fell on Thursday, as concerns related to Spain, disappointment with the Fed's stance on additional stimulus and caution ahead of the all-important U.S. jobs data on Friday kept investors at bay.

Key benchmark indexes in South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia posted modest gains, as commodities rebounded and investors hunted for bargains after recent losses. Chinese shares rallied, led by non-banking finance companies after Premier Wen Jiabao called for the break-up of a banking "monopoly" on lending.

Investors looked ahead to the release of U.S. non-farms payrolls on Friday to see if the world's largest economy continues to improve in 2012. Economists predict that the U.S. economy added 201,000 jobs last month, slightly below the 227,000 new jobs in February. The unemployment rate is expected to remain steady at a three-year low of 8.3 percent for a third straight month. The ADP National Employment Report released yesterday showed that the private sector added 209,000 jobs in March, reflecting the strengthening labor market.

Crude futures rose above $102 a barrel and copper rebounded marginally, while the yen rose against the dollar and euro.

Tokyo stocks fell for the third straight day, as fears concerning Spain's fiscal position hurt lenders and the yen's strengthening versus the dollar and euro weighed on exporters. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group fell 1.2 percent, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group slid 1.4 percent, Honda Motor lost 1.1 percent and Nikon Corp. shed 1.9 percent. The Nikkei average fell half a percent, while the broader Topix index lost a modest 0.3 percent. Heavyweight Fast Retailing fell 2 percent, adding to Wednesday's 6 percent loss.

Among those that gained, Kansai Electric Power jumped 3.2 percent on expectations for an early resumption of nuclear reactor operations. Takeda Pharmaceutical edged up 0.4 percent and East Japan Railway added 0.8 percent on defensive buying.

China's Shanghai Composite index rallied 1.7 percent as trading resumed after a three-day holiday. Investors cheered positive non-manufacturing PMI data as well as news that Beijing will raise the investment quota for foreign investment in Chinese securities by $50 billion to $80 billion. However, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost a percent, dragged down by mainland banks ahead of a slew of Chinese data due next week. Hong Kong markets will resume trading on Tuesday after a four-day Easter holiday weekend.

Australian shares fell modestly, as weak commodity prices sent mining and material shares lower. Recouping some early losses, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 finished the session down 0.3 percent, while the broader All Ordinaries index dropped 0.4 percent. BHP Billiton shed 0.9 percent, Rio Tinto dropped 1.7 percent and Fortescue Metals fell 1.5 percent. Among gold miners, Newcrest lost 1.6 percent and Eldorado Gold tumbled 3.1 percent.

In the energy sector, Woodside Petroleum rose half a percent as oil giant Royal Dutch Shell reinforced its interest in selling its full $6.5 billion shareholding in the company. Rival Oil Search gained 1.3 percent, as crude futures rebounded in Asian trading from a two-day sell-off and reports said its massive drilling activities in the Gulf of Papua have attracted strong interest from major energy companies.

Financial stocks staged a late rebound to end on a mixed note. Commonwealth gained 0.3 percent and ANZ edged up 0.1 percent, but Westpac slipped 0.3 percent and NAB ended unchanged. QBE lost 1.9 percent on profit taking after climbing 3.4 percent the day before when the company said it has had a positive start to 2012 after an unprecedented number of natural disasters.

South Korea's Kospi average rose half a percent, with automakers leading gainers after they reported strong U.S. sales figures. The benchmark index fell as much as 1 percent to a one-month low early in the session, weighed by worries over rising bond yields in Europe and the prospectus of no additional monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

Hyundai Motors, South Korea's largest automaker, jumped 5.2 percent while shares of its affiliate Kia Motor ended up 3.3 percent. SK Hynix rose 1.5 percent after the Nikkei reported that Toshiba is considering joining hands with the company to make a joint takeover bid for bankrupt memory-chip maker Elpida Memory.

New Zealand shares fell, with bluechips Telecom and Fletcher Building pacing the declines ahead of the Good Friday holiday, reflecting weaker sentiment in the regional markets. The benchmark NZX-50 index eased 0.4 percent. Warehouse Group, the biggest retailer on the exchange, tumbled 3.7 percent, gold miner OceanaGold fell 3.5 percent, carpet maker Cavalier lost 1.9 percent, Telecom, New Zealand's biggest phone company, declined 1.4 percent and Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, eased 0.6 percent.

Rubber goods and milking equipment manufacturer Skellerup Holdings led the gainers on the exchange, climbing 2.9 percent. Exporter Fisher & Paykel Healthcare gained 2.7 percent as the kiwi dollar came under pressure over the past two sessions due to renewed risk aversion. Children's clothing chain Pumpkin Patch rose 1.8 percent, extending the previous session's gains after it announced a deal with Amazon U.K.

Elsewhere, Malaysia's KLSE Composite index edged down 0.4 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average fell 1.6 percent, while Indonesia's Jakarta index was up 0.8 percent and Singapore's Straits Times gained marginally. Markets in India and the Philippines were closed for holidays. A number of financial markets, including the U.S. markets, will remain closed on Friday for Easter.

On Wall Street, stocks fell sharply overnight, as the prospects of no additional monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve, renewed concerns about funding difficulties for weaker euro zone countries following a poorly subscribed Spanish bond auction and a weaker than expected reading on U.S. service sector, which makes up about two-thirds of the U.S. economic activity, spooked investors. The Dow and the S&P 500 dropped around a percent each, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 1.5 percent.

by RTT Staff Writer

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