Asian markets up on US talks, unmoved by N.Korea test

Asian markets mostly rose on Wednesday as dealers welcomed signs of progress in US fiscal cliff talks and upbeat data from Germany and Spain, while shrugging off news of North Korea's rocket launch.

With investors becoming more confident the safe-haven yen came back under pressure ahead of a general election in Japan on Sunday and expectations of more monetary easing by the country's central bank.

Tokyo rose 0.59 percent, adding 56.14 points to 9,581.46, Seoul was up 0.55 percent, gaining 10.82 points to 1,975,44, and Sydney climbed 0.17 percent to a 17-month high, adding 7.8 points to 4,583.8.

In afternoon trade Hong Kong added 0.79 percent, but Shanghai eased 0.12 percent.

US President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner have swapped new offers to avoid the fiscal cliff of huge tax hikes and spending cuts due to come into effect on January 1, according to sources on both sides.

It fuelled hopes that the two, who have been at loggerheads over plans to increase taxes on the rich and slashing aid to Medicare, could come to an agreement.

If a deal is not reach by the New Year the package currently in place is widely expected to send the economy into recession.

Markets are also eyeing a meeting of the Federal Reserve policy committee, which is to decide on what action to take as the end approaches of its "Operation Twist" -- selling short-term debt to buy longer-term debt.

There are expectations that policymakers will replace it with more outright bond purchases, or "quantitative easing", aimed at lowering interest rates to encourage businesses to invest and hire.

Buying support was also provided by positive numbers from Germany, where investor sentiment in Europe's key economic machine hit a seven-month high on hopes it will dodge recession.

The confidence index from the ZEW economic institute surged to 6.9 points in December from minus 15.7 in November. Forecasts had been for a reading of minus 11.3.

It was the highest reading since May and the first time since then that the index has been in positive territory.

Spain also enjoyed a successful Treasury bond auction, easing fears over its ability to raise cash to pay its bills.

Traders on Wall Street ended on a positive note. The Dow rose 0.60 percent, a fifth straight day of gains, while the S&P 500 added 0.65 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 1.18 percent.

Confidence in "riskier" assets hit the yen, usually the go-to unit in times of uncertainty, in US trade on Tuesday and it remained under pressure in Asia Wednesday.

The dollar rose to 82.67 yen, compared with 82.51 yen in New York, while the euro was at 107.48 yen from 107.28 yen. That compares with 82.36 yen and 106.68 yen in Asia Tuesday.

The euro bought $1.3002 Wednesday, from $1.3003 in New York.

The yen has come under pressure in recent weeks ahead of Sunday's polls widely expected to see Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan beaten by the Liberal Democratic Party, which is headed by former Shinzo Abe.

Abe, a former prime minister, has promised to push a more aggressive monetary easing policy to jumpstart the economy.

Investors shrugged off news that North Korea had fired its rocket, which critics insists was being used as a covert ballistic missile test.

Previous launches and nuclear tests have led to an initial asset sell-off owing to geopolitical fears, but regional markets remained up in early trade.

"Frankly, it was almost a non-event," Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

On oil markets New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in January, edged up two cents to $85.81, and Brent North Sea crude for January added 24 cents at $108.25.

Gold was at $1,712.40 at 0650 GMT compared with $1,709.35 late on Tuesday.

In other markets:

-- Taipei fell 1.0 percent, or 76.5 points, to 7,690.19.

HTC rose 4.05 percent to Tw$282.5 while TSMC was 0.1 percent higher at Tw$98.4.

-- Wellington ended 0.77 percent, or 30.92 points, lower at 3,995.26.

Telecom fell 2.0 percent to NZ$2.19, Fletcher Building also lost 2.0 percent to NZ$8.28 and Contact Energy was down 2.1 percent at NZ$5.10.


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