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Asian Shares Mixed As Oil Prices Sink

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Asian stocks fluctuated before closing on a mixed note Thursday even as Chinese exports and imports figures beat expectations. U.S. bond yields crept up towards four-year highs and Brent crude prices hit a 2018 low on worries over surging U.S. output, keeping underlying sentiment cautious.

The dollar firmed up after U.S. congressional leaders reached a two-year budget deal to raise government spending by almost $300 billion.

Chinese shares fell for a third day to hit a six-month low even as a government report showed the country's exports grew at a faster-than-expected pace in January.

In dollar terms, exports advanced 11.1 percent year-over-year in January, faster than the 10.7 percent rise economists had forecast. Imports jumped 36.9 percent from a year ago, well above the expected growth of 10.6 percent.

Another report from the People's Bank of China revealed that China's foreign exchange reserves grew around $21.5 billion to $3.161 trillion in January, marking the 12th straight month of increase.

China's Shanghai Composite index tumbled 47.21 points or 1.43 percent to 3,262.05 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was up 0.29 percent at 30,410 in late trade.

Japanese shares rose sharply on bargain hunting as the yen weakened against the dollar on the back of a return in investor risk appetite. The Nikkei average rallied 245.49 points or 1.13 percent to finish at 21,890.86 while the broader Topix index closed 0.90 percent higher at 1,765.69.

Automaker Toyota Motor climbed 2.4 percent, while Nissan Motor and Honda Motor rose about 1 percent each. SoftBank Group gained 1 percent after reports that it is in talks to buy one-third stake in reinsurer Swiss Re.

On the data front, the Ministry of Finance said that Japan posted a current account surplus of 797.2 billion yen in December, down 28.5 percent from a year earlier and shy of expectations for a surplus of 1,056.9 billion yen.

Australian shares ended modestly higher as gains in financials offset losses in material stocks. The benchmark S&P ASX 200 rose 13.90 points or 0.24 percent to 5,890.70 while the broader All Ordinaries index ended up 13.70 points or 0.23 percent at 5,995.20.

Wealth manager AMP jumped 3.6 percent as it reported a turnaround to profit in the full year due to strong performances by its AMP Capital and AMP Bank businesses.

National Australia Bank advanced 2.3 percent after the lender reported a 3 percent increase in cash earnings for the first quarter and said it is on track to attain its full-year earnings forecast.

A 3 percent fall in copper prices pulled down miners, with BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group ending down between 0.8 percent and 1.4 percent.

Santos dropped 1.6 percent and Woodside Petroleum shed 2.1 percent after Brent crude futures tumbled to a six-week low on concerns over surging U.S. output.

Origin Energy lost 2 percent after the company said it will take a $533 million write-down in its first-half results. AGL Energy fell over 2 percent despite posting a 26.7 percent increase in first-half underlying profit.

Wagering giant Tabcorp Holdings slumped 6.9 percent after its half-year net profit plunged 58 percent.

Seoul stocks rebounded after four days of losses amid buying by foreign and individual investors. The benchmark Kospi rose 11.06 points or 0.46 percent to 2,407.62.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P NZX-50 index dropped 17.59 points or 0.21 percent to 8,177.14 after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand maintained its official cash rate at the record low of 1.75 percent for the eighth straight meeting, citing subdued inflation and slower economic growth.

Shares of insurer CBL Corp were suspended pending regulatory investigations. Similarly, Fletcher Building shares were halted at $7.77 after the company flagged more losses.

India's Sensex was rallying 1.4 percent after oil prices fell 2.5 percent to close at a one-month closing low on Wednesday, helping ease investor concerns surrounding inflation and rising twin deficits.

Singapore's Straits Times index was rising 0.8 percent and benchmark indexes in Indonesia and Malaysia were up modestly while the Taiwan Weighted dropped 0.2 percent.

U.S. stocks tumbled in the final hour of trading to close lower on Wednesday as sentiment changed from unbridled optimism to skepticism amid the threat of rising inflation and mixed remarks from Federal Reserve officials.

The Dow slid 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 dropped half a percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed 0.9 percent.

by RTT Staff Writer

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