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Asian Shares Mostly Higher Despite Mixed China Data

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Asian stocks closed mostly higher on Friday after oil prices rallied overnight and China dismissed media reports that officials have recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. debt. Optimism about the earnings season also offered some support.

Chinese shares closed higher for the eleventh straight session as investors looked past soft trade data. The benchmark Shanghai Composite index edged up 3.97 points or 0.12 percent to 3,429.32, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index advanced 292.15 points or 0.94 percent to 31,412.54.

Official data showed that China's exports and imports growth slowed in December in a sign of weaker global and domestic demand.

December exports grew an annual 10.9 percent, beating forecasts but down from a robust 12.3 percent gain in November. Imports grew an even slower pace of 4.5 percent.

Japanese shares ended lower as the yen's recent strength hurt exporters. Uniqlo-owner Fast Retailing posted a record quarterly profit, helping limit the downside.

The Nikkei 225 Index dropped 56.61 points or 0.24 percent to 23,653.82, while the broader Topix index closed 0.63 percent lower at 1,876.24.

Heavyweight Fast Retailing soared 6 percent after its Q1 operating profit topped forecasts. Among exporters, Sony, Canon, Panasonic, Honda Motor and Kyocera fell 1-2 percent.

On the economic front, Japan logged a current account surplus of 1.35 trillion yen in November, the government said in a report - down 5.6 percent from a year earlier.

Australian shares finished marginally higher after two days of losses as miners gained ground, offsetting declines in the financial and retail sectors.

Banks ANZ, Commonwealth and Westpac fell between 0.4 percent and 0.7 percent while energy stocks closed on a mixed note.

Retailers Woolworths and Wesfarmers ended in the red, but JB Hi-Fi continued its strong run to end 1.3 percent higher at $28.36 after a brokerage upgrade.

BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group and South32 climbed 2-4 percent despite a decline in iron ore prices.

Gold miners Regis Resources, Evolution and Norther Star rallied 1-2 percent after gold prices rose overnight for their highest settlement price since September.

Explosives and fertilizer maker Incitec Pivot tumbled 4.2 percent after a profit warning.

Seoul stocks closed a tad higher on institutional buying. The benchmark Kospi rose 8.51 points or 0.34 percent to 2,496.42, ending a three-day losing streak.

New Zealand shares fell slightly in light trading ahead of the start of the U.S. corporate earnings season. The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slid 8.09 points or 0.10 percent to 8,242.35.

The total number of building permits issued in New Zealand surged a seasonally adjusted 11.0 percent month-on-month in November, Statistics New Zealand figures showed. That follows the downwardly revised 10.0 percent contraction in October.

Singapore's Straits Times index was moving up 0.3 percent after a government report showed the country's retail sales grew at a faster-than-expected pace in November.

Indian shares were marginally lower and Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was declining 0.4 percent, while Malaysia's KLSE Composite index was rising 0.2 percent and the Taiwan Weighted advanced 0.7 percent.

Overnight, U.S. stocks rose sharply to close at fresh record highs and Treasury yields fell after China denied slowing purchase of U.S. bonds.

Energy stocks led the surge after the price of oil touched its highest level since 2014. The Dow and the tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed around 0.8 percent while the S&P 500 added 0.7 percent.

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