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Japanese Market Rises

The Japanese stock market is rising on Thursday on the back of a weaker yen and as U.S. stocks closed modestly lower overnight in the final hour of trading.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is advancing 181.14 points or 0.84 percent to 21,826.51, off a high of 21,904.90 earlier. On Wednesday, Japanese shares pared early gains to close modestly higher.

The major exporters are mostly higher on a weaker yen. Panasonic, Canon and Mitsubishi Electric are higher in a range of 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent, while Sony is losing almost 1 percent.

SoftBank Group's shares are edging up less than 0.1 percent after Swiss Re said SoftBank Group is in talks with the reinsurance giant on acquiring a minority stake.

Among automakers, Toyota is rising more than 2 percent and Honda is adding more than 1 percent. In the banking sector, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is advancing 0.6 percent and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is adding 0.4 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is down 0.3 percent and Japan Petroleum Exploration is declining almost 1 percent after crude oil prices fell overnight.

Among the market's best performers, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding is rising 5 percent, Minebea Mitsumi is gaining almost 5 percent and Asahi Glass is higher by more than 4 percent.

On the flip side, Toho Zinc is losing more than 8 percent, Meiji Holdings is declining almost 4 percent and SkyPerfect JSAT Holdings is down more than 2 percent.

In economic news, the Ministry of Finance said that Japan posted a current account surplus of 797.2 billion yen in December, down 28.5 percent on year. The headline figure was shy of expectations for a surplus of 1,056.9 billion yen following the 1,347.3 billion yen surplus in November.

Japan's trade balance showed a surplus of 538.9 billion yen, exceeding expectations for 520.4 billion yen and up from 181.0 billion yen in the previous month. Exports climbed 8.8 percent on year to 7.271 trillion yen, while imports jumped 14.6 percent to 6.732 trillion yen.

The Bank of Japan said that overall bank lending in Japan was up 2.4 percent on year in January, coming in at 523.068 trillion yen. That follows the 2.5 percent increase in December.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 109 yen-range on Thursday.

On Wall Street, stocks tumbled in the final hour of trading to finish near the unchanged line Wednesday, as markets remained skittish after Monday's crash. The lack of direction highlights concerns that stocks remain overbought after a recent rally powered by tax breaks.

The Dow lost 19.42 points, or 0.08 percent, to 24,893.35, the S&P 500 declined 0.5 percent to 2,681.66, and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.9 percent to 7,051.98.

The major European markets ended Wednesday's session in the green, putting an end to its recent seven-session losing streak. The DAX of Germany climbed 1.60 percent, the CAC 40 of France rose 1.82 percent and the FTSE 100 of the U.K. gained 1.93 percent.

Crude oil futures fell sharply Wednesday, extending a recent slump after data showed U.S. oil inventories dropped for a second week in a row. March WTI oil settled at $61.79 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down $1.60 or 2.5 percent - the lowest in a month.

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