Asian markets mostly up, weaker yen lifts Nikkei

Asian markets were mostly higher on Wednesday, snapping a recent losing streak as the US corporate earnings season got off to a positive start with aluminium giant Alcoa reporting a large jump in profit.

The dollar and euro also picked up against the yen, providing strong support for the Nikkei index as the weakening Japanese currency spurred investors to buy exporter shares.

Tokyo closed up 0.67 percent, or 70.51 points, at 10,578.57, Sydney ended 0.38 percent higher, adding 17.9 points to 4,708.1 and Hong Kong ended up 0.46 percent, adding 107.28 points to 23,218.47.

However, Seoul lost 0.31 percent, or 6.13 points, to close at 1,991.81.

And Shanghai ended flat, dipping 0.73 points to 2,275.34 owing to caution ahead of the release of key Chinese economic data later this week.

"There are some concerns that the mediocre performance in the global economy could affect trade and liquidity flows in China," Southwest Securities analyst Zhang Gang told Dow Jones Newswires.

On Thursday and Friday Beijing will release data on key indicators including inflation and trade, with hopes rising that the world's number two economy will show further signs of emerging from its recent slowdown.

Asian markets, which have seen a sell-off in the past few days, bounced following news Tuesday from Alcoa that it saw a profit of $242 million in the three months to December, compared with a year-earlier loss of $191 million.

The company also stayed in the black for the full year, despite aluminium prices falling 12 percent.

"Alcoa's results are generally considered a bellwether for the global economy and the fact that the aluminium giant forecasts higher demand in 2013 appeased investors," noted Stan Shamu, a strategist at IG Market in Melbourne.

However Wall Street ended in negative territory. The Dow fell 0.41 percent, the S&P 500 lost 0.32 percent and the Nasdaq shed 0.23 percent.

With immediate fiscal worries at bay after the United States last week dodged across-the-board tax hikes and automatic spending cuts, dealers were looking for fresh cues to spur buying.

On currency markets the yen weakened as importers and retail investors bought the euro and dollar for overseas purchases.

The dollar bought 87.64 yen in Asian trade, from 86.97 yen in New York late Tuesday.

The euro was at 114.60 yen from 113.75, while sitting at $1.3083 from $1.3079.

"The yen's prior resurgence wasn't something unexpected after falling so much over such a protracted period," Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager at Chibagin Asset Management, told Dow Jones Newswires.

"The market expects it will resume its weakening trajectory. At this point, it is more a question of how much further it will fall rather than how much it will rebound."

And Kuniyuki Hirai, foreign-exchange trading manager at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, said: "This is not a market where dollar-selling works. The fact is there are so many who have yet to buy dollars."

Oil prices were lower, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, dropping two cents to $93.13 a barrel while Brent North Sea crude for February also lost two cents to $111.92.

Gold was at $1,663.68 at 1030 GMT compared with $1,653.49 late Tuesday.

In other markets:

-- Singapore added 0.46 percent, or 14.89 points, to 3,220.41.

Agribusiness group Wilmar International gained 3.15 percent to Sg$3.60 and Singapore Airlines, which recently asked its captains to volunteer for unpaid leave amid a travel slowdown, rose 0.18 percent to Sg$11.00.

-- Bangkok gained 0.43 percent, or 6.13 points, to 1,423.46.

Siam Cement lost 1.35 percent to 440.00 baht, while power giant Electricity Generating Public Co added 0.66 percent to 151.50 baht.

-- Kuala Lumpur inched up 1.02 points to 1,689.93.

IOI Corp rose 1.4 percent to 5.12 ringgit while Genting gained 1 percent to 9.80. UMW Holdings lost 1 percent to end at 12.34 ringgit.

Jakarta slipped 0.79 percent, or 34.62 points, to 4,362.93.

-- Tin miner Timah dropped 3.43 percent to 1,690 rupiah and cement maker Indocement Tunggal Prakarsa slid 0.90 percent to 21,900 rupiah, while paper maker Pabrik Kertas Tjiwi Kimia rose 1.01 percent to 2,000 rupiah.

-- Taipei rose 0.22 percent, or 16.98 points, to 7,738.64.

Hon Hai Precision added 0.92 percent to Tw$87.8 while TSMC was 0.3 percent higher at Tw$100.0.

-- Manila closed 0.70 percent higher, adding 42.28 points to 6,091.18.

Metropolitan Bank and Trust surged 2.22 percent to 105.70 pesos, while Philippine Long Distance Telephone added 0.08 percent to 2,648 pesos.

BDO Unibank gained 0.47 percent to 75.50 pesos.

-- Wellington rose 0.32 percent, or 13.17 points, to 4,103.54.

Contact Energy fell 2.3 percent to NZ$5.17 while Telecom was up 3.1 percent at NZ$2.32 and Fletcher Building ended unchanged at NZ$8.45.

-- Mumbai slid 0.38 percent, or 75.93 points, to 19,666.59 points.

Tata Steel, the world's seventh largest steel maker, fell 2.54 percent to 422.7 rupees and motorbike maker Bajaj Auto fell 1.96 percent to 2,155.6 rupees.

--

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