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Asian Shares Follow Wall Street Higher On Fed Comments

Asian stock markets ended mostly higher on Thursday, as a rally on Wall Street overnight on relief over the Fed's assessment of the U.S. economy and strong corporate earnings, especially Apple Inc's robust results, put eurozone jitters on the back burner. Having said that, gains were limited as a surprise 4.2 percent month-over-month drop in U.S. durable goods orders for March underscored the continuing concerns over global growth.

Following a two-day policy meeting, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday detailed no plans to extend its bond-buying program, but said it is prepared to do more to boost economic growth. Analysts interpreted the comments in a positive way given current economic uncertainties.

Tokyo stocks gave up morning gains, as traders turned cautious ahead of the Bank of Japan's monetary policy meeting tomorrow, where the central bank is expected to announce additional monetary policy steps to shore up the economy. The Nikkei average rose 0.01 percent, while the broader Topix index edged up 0.08 percent

Fanuc plunged 6.1 percent after the maker of factory robots issued a cautious outlook for the half year ending September 2012. China-linked shares such as Komatsu and Hitachi Construction Machinery fell 1.5 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, after Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest maker of construction equipment, said sales slowed in the key developing countries of China.

Nomura Holdings fell 2.3 percent on news that Japan's securities regulator is investigating the brokerage in connection with a possible leak of inside information. KDDI rose 1.5 percent after the telecoms operator forecast a 4.8 percent rise in net income this fiscal year.

China's Shanghai Composite index edged down 0.1 percent, as financial shares slipped offsetting gains in metal shares. Insurance companies like China Life and New China Life dropped 1-2 percent after China Life Insurance Co., the country's biggest life insurer, reported a 29 percent fall in its first-quarter profit due to impairment losses on equity investments.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.8 percent, with China Unicom climbing 4 percent to its highest level in more than a month after the mobile phone company reported a surge in first-quarter profit.

Australian shares posted modest gains to finish at a fresh eight-month high, as investors returning from a holiday on Wednesday lapped up heavyweight financial shares. Both the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 and the broader All Ordinaries index ended up around 0.3 percent each. ANZ rose marginally, while NAB, Westpac and Commonwealth rose between 0.7 percent and 1 percent. Shares of Bank of Queensland jumped 3.6 percent.

Mining stocks ended mixed, with BHP Billiton rising marginally and Rio Tinto gaining 0.9 percent, while smaller rival Fortescue lost 2.4 percent. Gold miner Newcrest Mining tumbled 3.9 percent after it surprised investors with its gold production downgrade for 2012 earlier this week. Media stocks took a battering, with shares of Seven West Media plunging 23 percent after it cut its full-year profit forecast, citing cost increases and an expected fall in advertising revenues.

South Korea' s Kospi average edged up 0.1 percent, rising for the first time in six sessions, after an advance estimate by the Bank of Korea showed South Korea's gross domestic product climbed 0.9 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the previous three months. That was in line with expectations following the 0.3 percent gain in the previous three months and the 0.8 percent gain in Q3.

Shares of Hyundai Motor, the nation's largest automaker, ended up 1.8 percent. The company reported a 31 percent rise in its first-quarter earnings as strong sales of its Sonata and Elantra models in the United States more than offset a sluggish industry trend in Europe and China.

SK Hynix added half a percent after the memory chipmaker reported its third straight quarterly loss and said chip prices will likely recover in the second quarter. Steelmaker POSCO ended 0.7 percent lower after Japan's Nippon Steel said it was seeking $1.25 billion in damages from the company for allegedly stealing trade secrets.

New Zealand shares ended little changed with a positive bias as investors digested the Reserve Bank's decision to leave interest rates at a record low. The kiwi rose after governor Alan Bollard said the high currency is a concern for the economy. Telecom fell 1.5 percent on profit taking after rising sharply in the first quarter of the year, while Summerset Group, the retirement village operator and developer that went public in October, rose 1.2 percent to set a new record high.

Heartland New Zealand, the would-be bank, led the gainers on the exchange, climbing 3.6 percent. New Zealand Refining rose 1.1 percent ahead of a crucial shareholder vote at its annual meeting in Whangarei tomorrow on a proposed $365 million development project.

India's Sensex was last trading down 0.3 percent on the last day of April F&O contracts expiry. Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index rose 0.4 percent, Malaysia's KLSE Composite edged up marginally and Singapore's Straits Times added 0.1 percent, while the Taiwan Weighted average shed 0.6 percent.

On Wall Street, shares rallied overnight, as Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke's reassurance that he's prepared to "do more" to boost the economy if necessary and better than expected quarterly results from tech giant Apple Inc., the world's largest publicly-traded company by market capitalization, boosted investor sentiment.

The Dow rose 0.7 percent and the S&P 500 jumped 1.4 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 2.3 percent to post its biggest gain of the year.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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