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Asian Shares End Mixed As Growth Concerns Linger

Asian shares ended on a mixed note on Tuesday, as mixed views about China's trade data, no additional stimulus from the Bank of Japan and renewed concerns that the U.S. labor market recovery is still slow prompted investors to adopt a cautious stance. Reviving speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve may offer additional stimulus to kick-start demand and spur jobs growth helped limit the downside to some extent.

After disappointing U.S. jobs data, investors now eagerly await U.S. corporate earnings and Chinese first-quarter GDP figures, due on Friday for near-term directional cues. Commodities traded mixed, with oil extending losses, while copper and gold gained ground, as traders bet on the likelihood of another round of stimulus. The dollar fell to a one-month low against the yen after the Bank of Japan said in a statement accompanying the policy decision that no one proposed expansion of stimulus at the meeting.

Tokyo stocks fell as the Bank of Japan's decision not to implement additional monetary easing measures strengthened the yen, prompting selling in exporters like Sony and Panasonic. Shares of Sony tumbled 3.5 percent while those of Panasonic slumped 4 percent. Sharp slumped 4.3 percent after a Nikkei report said the electronics maker will likely post a larger consolidated net loss of about 390 billion yen for the 2011 fiscal year, hurt by poor sales of televisions and solar sales. The company confirmed the news after the markets closed.

Offsetting these losses to some extent, Toyota Motor rose 1.5 percent following its announcement of a new framework for vehicle development in order to speed decision making. Nissan Motor gained 0.6 percent and Nikon edged up 0.3 percent. The Nikkei average slipped 0.1 percent following Monday's 1.5 percent loss, while the broader Topix index ended little changed.

Kansai Electric Power climbed 3.4 percent after the company said it will invest more than 200 billion yen to improve safety measures at its 11 nuclear reactors against earthquakes, tsunami and other accidents. Realty stocks ended mixed, with Mitsui Fudosan rising 0.6 percent, while Mitsubishi Estate fell 0.7 percent after the Bank of Japan dashed hopes for fresh easing measures.

Following the end of its two-day monetary policy meeting, the Bank of Japan today maintained its benchmark interest rate near zero and refrained from announcing additional stimulus saying "Japan's economic activity has shown some signs of picking up, although it has remained more or less flat." Japan faces the critical challenge of overcoming deflation and this goal will be achieved through efforts to strengthen the economy's growth potential and support from the financial side, the bank said in the statement.

China's Shanghai Composite index rose 0.9 percent, with banks leading the gainers, as weaker-than-expected March import growth data stoked speculation that the government will likely ease policy in the near term. While exports rose 8.9 percent from a year earlier to $165.6 billion in March, imports rose just 5.3 percent to $160.31 billion, resulting in an unexpected $5.35 billion trade surplus last month after a hefty deficit in February, data from the General Administration of Customs showed today. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 1.2 percent as trading resumed after a four-day holiday weekend.

Australian shares ended off their day's lows after data showed China unexpectedly returned to a trade surplus in March. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200, which resumed trading after a four-day break, ended down 0.6 percent, while the broader All Ordinaries index shed 0.7 percent.

BHP Billiton, which last month warned that Chinese demand for iron ore is "flattening out" ended down 0.6 percent, while Rio Tinto shed shed 0.7 percent and Fortescue fell 1.4 percent. Energy shares lost ground, with Santos, Woodside and Oil Search falling 1-2 percent. Paladin Energy climbed 3 percent after the uranium miner widened a strategic review. Austar shares jumped 2.7 percent after the competition regulator approved pay television giant Foxtel's $2 billion acquisition of the firm.

Shares of Telstra, Foxtel's largest shareholder, and Consolidated Media ended flat, while News Corp. fell 1.7 percent. Builder Leighton Holdings lost 1.6 percent after data showed Australia's construction sector remained in sharp contraction in March despite a slight pick up in activity, according to survey results published by the Australian Industry Group.

South Korea's Kospi average slipped 0.1 percent in thin trading, as investors moved to the sidelines ahead of some crucial events, including South Korean parliamentary elections on Wednesday and an impending launch of a satellite by North Korea sometime between April 12 to 16. Automakers snapped recent gains, with Hyundai Motor falling 2.8 percent and Kia Motor ending down 2.5 percent, while SK Innovation, South Korea's largest oil refiner, and builder Samsung Engineering rose over a percent each.

New Zealand shares rose modestly in thin trading, erasing initial losses, as investors hunted for bargains in blue-chip stocks. The benchmark NZX-50 index gained 0.2 percent. SkyCity Entertainment Group advanced 1.8 percent, Telecom rose 1.6 percent and Contact Energy gained 0.6 percent. Exporter Fisher & Paykel Healthcare ended 0.9 percent higher as the New Zealand dollar pared gains following trade data from China, which painted a mixed picture of growth in the world's second-largest economy.

Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, lost a percent as investors assessed the possibility of slower growth in view of continued delays to Christchurch's rebuild. Shares of would-be bank Heartland tumbled 4 percent on news that its chief financial officer Sean Kam has resigned.

Elsewhere, India's Sensex was last trading little changed and Indonesia's Jakarta Composite edged down marginally, while Malaysia's KLSE Composite rose 0.4 percent, Singapore's Straits Times index gained 0.6 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average ended up half a percent.

On Wall Street, the major averages lost around a percent each overnight in the wake of Friday's disappointing jobs report.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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