Asian shares rise but US fiscal concerns linger

Asian shares rose Thursday, with Tokyo scaling a 21-month high thanks to a weaker yen, but pessimism lingered over the prospects of a US "fiscal cliff" deal by the year-end deadline.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.91 percent, or 92.62 points, to 10,322.98, the highest level since March 11 last year when a massive quake struck Japan, sparking a tsunami and the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

The dollar rose to its highest level in more than two years against the yen as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office, raising expectations that the Bank of Japan would initiate more aggressive monetary easing under his leadership.

Seoul closed 0.26 percent, or 5.10 points, higher at 1,987.35, and Sydney gained 0.28 percent, or 12.8 points, to 4,648.0.

Hong Kong climbed 0.35 percent, or 78.6 points, to 22,619.78, while Shanghai eased 0.60 percent, or 13.23 points, to 2,205.90.

Regional gains came despite overnight falls on Wall Street as investors continue to fret over the looming fiscal cliff -- a series of tax hikes and spending cuts worth some $600 billion due to take effect in January.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.19 percent to finish the session at 13,114.59.

The broad-market S&P 500 lost 6.83 points (0.48 percent) to end at 1,419.83, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite shed 22.44 points (0.74 percent) to 2,990.16.

US lawmakers are set to return to the negotiating table after the Christmas holidays in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal, with experts warning that going over the cliff could drive the world's biggest economy back into recession.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday the government would hit its legal borrowing limit by Monday, setting in motion emergency measures to keep the government operating for several more weeks.

The Treasury's manoeuvring is designed to put off until February or March the prospect of a full-blown debt crisis, indicating that the US budget wrangling could continue well into 2013.

Despite those concerns the dollar made steady gains, hovering around 85.79 yen in afternoon Tokyo trade, the highest level since September 2010.

The euro fetched 113.57 yen and $1.3242 compared with 113.19 yen and $1.3230 in New York late Wednesday.

Oil prices were mixed, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, adding six cents to $91.04 a barrel. Brent North Sea crude for February delivery shed 10 cents to $110.97.

Gold was at $1,655.26 at 1106 GMT compared with $1,658.10 late Wednesday.

In other markets:

-- Taipei rose 0.19 percent, or 14.22 points, to 7,648.41.

Hon Hai Precision rose 0.56 percent to Tw$89.0 while TSMC was 0.42 percent down at Tw$95.60.

-- Wellington gained 0.19 percent, or 7.63 points, to 4,065.44.

Telecom Corp was down 1.32 percent at NZ$2.25, while Fletcher Building rose 1.81 percent to NZ$8.45.

-- Manila fell 0.65 percent, or 37.94 points, to 5,794.89.

Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company slipped 0.77 percent to 102.10 pesos, while BDO Unibank rose 0.62 percent to 72.75 pesos.

-- Singapore was up 0.10 percent, or 3.12 points to 3,183.93.

Wilmar International gained 2.75 percent to Sg$3.36 while City Developments shed 0.46 percent to Sg$12.90.

-- Kuala Lumpur rose 2.58 points, or 0.15 percent, to 1,674.16.

YTL Power International ended up 4 percent at 1.57 ringgit while UEM Land Holdings gained 0.5 percent to 2.11. Petronas Dagangan was down 1.9 percent to close at 23.36 ringgit.

-- Jakarta rose 0.16 percent, or 6.77 points, to 4,281.86.

Food manufacturer Indofood Sukses Makmur climbed 1.74 percent to 5,850 rupiah and carmaker Astra International rose 2.03 percent to 7,550 rupiah.

-- Bangkok edged up 1.08 percent or 14.96 points to 1,397.19.

-- Electricity firm EGCO added 3.11 percent to 149.00 baht, while Siam Cement gained 2.74 percent to 450.00 baht.

-- Mumbai fell 0.48 percent or 93.66 points to 19,323.8.

Engineering giant Bharat Heavy Electricals fell 1.74 percent to 226.15 rupees while Sterlite Industries, the local arm of global resources firm Vedanta, slid 1.59 percent to 114.25.

--

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