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Asian Shares Mixed As Investors Await U.S.-China Talks


Asian stocks ended mixed on Thursday as investors shrugged off U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address and looked for progress in the U.S.-China trade dispute ahead of crucial talks in Beijing next week.

Japanese shares fell despite SoftBank announcing a share buyback following the company's release of strong quarterly earnings.

The Nikkei 225 Index dropped 122.78 points or 0.6 percent to 20,751.28, while the broader Topix closed 0.8 percent lower at 1,569.03.

Automakers Honda Motor and Toyota fell 1-2 percent on concerns over global growth amid the U.S.-China trade war. Meanwhile, Mazda Motor jumped 6.4 percent on its upbeat full-year earnings.

Telecoms and investment firm SoftBank Group soared 17.7 percent after announcing a huge buyback of its shares. Tech stocks ended mixed, with Advantest falling 1.8 percent, while Tokyo Electron advanced 1.7 percent.

Australian markets rallied as a sliding Aussie dollar lifted commodity-related and healthcare stocks. Banks also rose on expectations of a low interest rate environment as RBA Governor Philip Lowe opened the door to a possible rate cut in the wake of growing economic risks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index jumped 66.40 points or 1.1 percent to 6,092.50, while the All Ordinaries Index surged up 67.30 points or 1.1 percent to 6,159.10.

Rio Tinto gained 1.3 percent and smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group rose about 1 percent amid worries about a possible shortfall in iron ore supplies after Brazilian miner Vale declared force majeure earlier this week.

Energy stocks such as Woodside Petroleum, Santos, Origin Energy and Oil Search rose over 1 percent each after oil prices gained ground on Wednesday on signs of strong U.S. demand and tightening global crude supply.

The big four banks rose 1-2 percent, while healthcare companies CSL and Ramsay Health Care jumped around 2 percent, driven by a weaker Aussie dollar.

AMP rallied 2.5 percent after it replaced Paul Sainsbury, the head of its wealth management unit, just days after the release of the royal commission's final report.

On the other hand, AGL Energy plunged 4.8 percent after it announced a A$25 million upgrade to Victoria's Loy Yang coal-fired power station.

In economic news, the latest survey from the Australian Industry Group revealed that the construction sector in Australia continued to contract in January, albeit at a slower pace.

Seoul stocks ended on a flat note amid increasing uncertainties at the global level. The benchmark Kospi finished marginally lower at 2,203.42 as investors awaited progress in the U.S.-China trade talks and the scheduled summit meeting between the U.S. and North Korea.

New Zealand shares rose notably, with the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 Index climbing 59.79 points or 0.7 percent to 9,133.51.

Consumer staple stocks surged after global dairy prices rose at an auction. Synlait Milk rallied 5.4 percent, while a2 Milk Company advanced 2.6 percent.

The jobless rate in New Zealand came in at a seasonally adjusted 4.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, Statistics New Zealand said in a report. That exceeded forecasts for 4.1 percent and was up from 3.9 percent in the three months prior.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand holds its first policy meeting of the year next week and markets are wagering it will take a dovish stance.

Markets in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong were closed for the Lunar New Year holidays.

U.S. stocks fell in thin trading overnight to snap a five-session winning streak, with disappointing forecasts from video game makers and President Trump's tough talk on immigration weighing on the markets.

The Dow slipped 0.1 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.4 percent and the S&P 500 shed 0.2 percent.

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