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Asian Markets Modestly Higher

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Asian stock markets are mostly higher on Tuesday despite the mixed lead overnight from Wall Street. However, gains are modest in most markets as investors digested tech giant Samsung Electronics' profit outlook for the fourth quarter and also focused on the ongoing talks between South Korea and North Korea, the first formal talk between the two Koreas in more than two years.

The Australian market is rising for a fifth straight day despite the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street. Miners and banks are among the leading gainers.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 14.30 points or 0.23 percent to 6,144.70, off a high of 6,148.30 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is advancing 14.90 points or 0.24 percent to 6,251.40.

Rising iron ore prices lifted the mining sector. BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals are advancing more than 1 percent each, while Rio Tinto is rising almost 2 percent.

In the banking sector, ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank are higher in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent.

In the oil space, Woodside Petroleum is adding almost 1 percent and Oil Search is up 0.5 percent after crude oil prices rose overnight, while Santos is unchanged.

Meanwhile, gold miners are weak. Newcrest Mining is down 0.4 percent and Evolution Mining is unchanged.

Brambles has agreed to sell its North American whitewood pallets business CHEP Recycled to private equity firm Grey Mountain Partners for $115 million. The company's shares are higher by 0.3 percent.

Retail Food Group's shares are losing almost 5 percent after the café and bakery owner lowered its first-half profit outlook for the second time in less than a month.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the total number of building approvals issued in Australia was up a seasonally adjusted 11.7 percent on month in December, coming in at 21,055. That beat forecasts for a decline of 1.3 percent following the downwardly revised 0.1 percent contraction in October.

Australia will also release November numbers for job ads today.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was almost flat against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday. In early trades, the local unit was quoted at US$0.7842, up from US$0.7841 on Monday.

The Japanese market, which reopened after a holiday on Monday, is higher despite the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street and a stronger yen. The yen strengthened after the Bank of Japan trimmed bond purchases.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 186.19 points or 0.79 percent to 23,900.72, off a high of 23,952.61 in early trades.

The major exporters are higher despite a stronger yen. Mitsubishi Electric is rising almost 2 percent, while Sony and Canon are advancing more than 1 percent each. Panasonic is adding almost 1 percent and SoftBank is up more than 1 percent.

In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is down 0.4 percent, while Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is adding 0.2 percent each.

Among automakers, Toyota is edging up less than 0.1 percent and Honda is adding 0.5 percent. Toyota unveiled a concept car, the e-Palette, which showcases its vision for the autonomous electric vehicles, at the 2018 CES Consumer Electronics Show in the U.S. on Monday.

In the oil space, Inpex is down 0.6 percent, while Japan Petroleum Exploration is advancing 0.7 percent after crude oil prices rose overnight.

Among the market's best performers, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding is rising more than 10 percent, Tokai Carbon is gaining more than 4 percent and Sumco Corp. is higher by almost 4 percent.

On the flip side, Nippon Express is losing almost 2 percent, while Takara Holdings and Haseko Corp. are lower by more than 1 percent each.

In economic news, Japan will provide November figures for real and labor cash earnings as well as December results for its consumer confidence index today.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the 113 yen-range on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea, Shanghai, Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong are also modestly higher, while Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan are edging lower.

On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed on Monday in choppy trading as traders expressed some uncertainty about the near-term outlook for the markets following the recent run to record highs. A lack of major U.S. economic data also kept traders on the sidelines ahead of the release of key reports on retail sales and producer and consumer prices later this week.

The Dow edged down 12.87 points or 0.1 percent to 25,283.00, while the Nasdaq climbed 20.83 points or 0.3 percent to 7,157.39 and the S&P 500 rose 4.56 points or 0.2 percent to 2,747.71.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned in a mixed performance on Monday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index fell by 0.4 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index climbed by 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Crude oil futures advanced Monday after industry data showed a surprising decrease in the U.S. rig count. WTI crude for February delivery rose $0.29 to $61.73 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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