Asian markets mixed, Seoul flat after N. Korea blast

Asian markets mostly rose in holiday-thinned trade Tuesday, as reports that North Korea had possibly carried out a nuclear test spooked investors early on but Seoul pared initial losses.

Tokyo was boosted by a weaker yen while Sydney was at almost three-year highs as dealers grow confident in the global economic outlook.

With several regional markets still closed for Lunar New Year celebrations, trading was quiet, while dealers look ahead to a meeting of the Group of 20 top economic power at the end of the week.

Tokyo surged 2.30 percent in the afternoon and Sydney added 0.11 percent. Seoul, which was 0.20 percent down soon after the North Korea reports, was off just 0.08 percent.

Wellington ended flat, dipping 2.38 points to 4,218.12.

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were closed for public holidays.

Japanese shares were the big gainers as the yen tumbled against the dollar in New York on Monday after US Treasury official Lael Brainard praised Tokyo's efforts to boost growth and counter deflation.

Analysts say Brainard's comments indicate Washington will not support any criticism of Japan's recent monetary easing measures at the G20 meeting on Friday.

Tokyo's recent moves have stoked fears, especially in Europe, of a currency war between the major economies as policymakers seek to devalue their currencies to make exports more competitive.

The dollar stood at 94.25 yen in Tokyo, from 94.33 yen in New York late Monday.

The euro fetched $1.3390 and 126.23 yen, compared with $1.3404 and 126.42 yen.

"(The dollar/yen) is back in the 94-yen levels," Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager of research at Chibagin Asset Management, told Dow Jones Newswires. "This is going to give a tailwind."

There was little direction from Wall Street, where the Dow fell 0.16 percent and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq ended flat.

North Korea appeared to have carried out a threatened atomic test Tuesday, with international monitoring agencies reporting a seismic event near the country's test site.

The tremor, whose magnitude was estimated at between 4.9 and 5.1, was detected at 11:57 am (0257 GMT) with the epicentre in Kilju county, where the North's Punggye-ri test site is located.

However, Woori Investment & Securities analyst Lee Kyoung-min said the news, which had been expected, was unlikely to have a major effect on shares, noting that "past nuclear tests in North Korea failed to exert strong impact on market sentiment".

In electronic oil trading New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, was down 16 cents to $96.87 a barrel in the morning, while Brent North Sea crude for March was up five cents to $118.18.

Gold was at $1,646.90 at 0450 GMT.

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