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Asian Shares End Flat To Higher In Cautious Trade

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Asian stocks ended flat to slightly higher on Thursday as reports on a possible delay in the signing of a U.S.-China trade deal kept underlying sentiment cautious.

However, a senior Trump administration official reportedly said China's latest push for more tariff rollbacks would not derail progress toward an interim deal.

Chinese shares ended largely unchanged amid fresh uncertainty surrounding the U.S.-China trade deal. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index finished marginally higher at 2,978.71, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 0.6 percent to 27,847.23.

Japanese stocks recovered from a weak start to close slightly higher as heavyweight SoftBank Group posted its first quarterly loss in 14 years.

The Nikkei 225 Index inched up 26.50 points, or 0.1 percent, to 23,330.32, its highest closing level since early October last year. The broader Topix closed 0.2 percent higher at 1,698.13.

SoftBank Group shares fell 2.2 percent after the conglomerate reported a $6.5 billion quarterly loss, hit by a writedown on its investment through its giant Vision Fund.

Graphite electrode maker Tokai Carbon tumbled 4.7 percent on posting disappointing earnings, but Olympus soared 15.2 percent after its quarterly earnings topped forecasts.

Australian markets ended sharply higher, with banks and technology companies leading the surge. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index jumped 66.40 points, or 1 percent, to 6,726.60, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended up 63.70 points, or 0.9 percent, at 6,836.90.

National Australia Bank rallied 2.2 percent despite the lender reporting an 11 percent drop in annual cash earnings and cutting its dividend. The other three big banks rose between 0.4 percent and 1.3 percent.

Energy stocks such as Oil Search and Santos fell over 1 percent as oil held on to overnight losses after a much larger than expected build in U.S. crude inventories.

Mining heavyweight BHP shed 0.4 percent while Rio ended on a flat note. Gold miners Evolution and Newcrest rose around 2 percent as doubts about a U.S.-China trade breakthrough buoyed demand for the previous metal.

James Hardie Industries soared 7.8 percent after the world's largest fibre cement maker forecast higher earnings in fiscal 2020 amid an improving U.S. housing market.

Xero jumped 9.6 percent as the cloud accounting software firm reported a turnaround to profit in the first half of the year on a 32 percent surge in revenues. WiseTech Global and Altium ended up more than 3 percent each.

In economic news, Australia posted a seasonally adjusted merchandise trade surplus of A$7.180 billion in September, official data showed, handily exceeding forecasts for a surplus of A$5.050 billion.

Another report showed that the construction sector in Australia continued to contract in October, albeit at a slightly slower rate.

Seoul stocks recouped early losses to end on flat note. The benchmark Kospi inched up marginally to close at 2,144.29 on expectations that China's latest push for more tariff rollbacks won't derail progress toward the "phase one" agreement.

National flag carrier Korean Air Lines jumped 2.9 percent, while market bellwether Samsung Electronics gave up 0.8 percent

New Zealand shares eked out modest gains, with the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 Index ending up 35.88 points, or 0.3 percent, at 10,795.06.

U.S. stocks ended narrowly mixed overnight after reports emerged that the United States and China might delay a meeting to formalize the phase one deal.

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