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Asian markets mostly up, Tokyo hit by strong yen

Asian shares mostly rose Friday following a sell-off in the previous session, but Tokyo was hit by a stronger yen and data showing Japan suffered its lowest current account surplus in nearly 30 years.

Data showing China's trade surplus had risen more than expected provided extra buying support, adding to a recent trend of improvement in the the world's number two economy.

Tokyo dived 1.80 percent, or 203.91 points, to 11,153.16 while Sydney gained 0.72 percent, or 35.6 points, to 4,971.3 and Seoul closed up 0.99 percent, or 19.13 points, to 1,950.90.

Hong Kong rose 0.16 percent, or 38.16 points, to 23,215.16 and Shanghai added 0.57 percent, or 13.87 points, to 2,432.40.

Japan's Nikkei suffered a sell-off for a second straight day on profit-taking -- after surging 3.77 percent to a four-and-half-year high on Wednesday -- and a stronger yen, which had fallen to multi-month lows.

"The market is due for another pullback as it remains overheated and ripe for profit-taking, especially with the holiday-extended three-day weekend coming up," said SMBC Nikko Securities general manager of equities Hiroichi Nishi.

"The 'energy' in the market remains very strong, however," he told Dow Jones Newswires.

Data on Friday showed the surplus in Japan's current account, the broadest measure of Tokyo's dealings with the rest of the world, nearly halved to 4.7 trillion yen ($50 billion) in 2012, the smallest since 1985.

The figures showed exports to China and Europe slumped, with December seeing a monthly deficit of 264.1 billion yen, from a year-earlier surplus of 265.7 billion yen.

Zhang Zhiwei, a Hong Kong-based economist with Nomura International, said in a research note: "These data suggest that external and domestic demand are both strong, which supports our view that the economy is on track for a cyclical recovery in the first half" of this year.

In afternoon forex trade the dollar bought 92.37 yen, down from 93.61 yen in New York late Thursday, while the euro was at 123.80 yen, from 125.40 yen.

The Japanese unit had been as low as 94.06 and 127.71 earlier this week on a combination of expectations of further Bank of Japan monetary easing as well as rising confidence in the global outlook.

Europe's single currency also bought $1.3401 from $1.3395, having touched $1.3711 last week.

Dealers moved to sell the euro after the European Central Bank held interest rates at record lows.

China's General Administration of Customs said the country's trade surplus rose in January, thanks to an improvement in exports and imports.

The surplus rose 7.7 percent year-on-year to $29.2 billion, beating a median $26.6 billion forecast of economists in a Dow Jones Newswires survey.

Customs also said exports surged 25.0 percent to $187.4 billion, while imports climbed 28.8 percent to $158.2 billion.

Later in the day the National Bureau of Statistics said inflation in January slowed to 2.0 percent -- in line with expectations -- from a seven-month peak of 2.5 percent in December.

On Wall Street the Dow fell 0.30 percent, the S&P 500 lost 0.18 percent and the Nasdaq eased 0.11 percent.

Oil prices rose, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, increasing 17 cents to $96.00 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for March gaining 39 cents to $117.63.

Gold was at $1,672.70 at 0830 GMT compared with $1,676.08 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Manila was flat, slipping 1.32 points to close at 6,458.67.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. added 0.27 percent to 2,896 pesos and conglomerate Ayala Corp. rose 0.35 percent to 564.50 pesos.

-- Wellington added 0.73 percent, or 30.48 points, to 4,225.72.

Chorus surged 10.14 percent to NZ$3.15 after government plans to regulate its prices were delayed, while Telecom Corp gained 1.95 percent to NZ$2.35.

-- Taipei was closed for a public holiday.