Asian markets rise, Hong Kong ahead after holiday

Asian markets rose on Thursday, with dealers looking ahead to an upcoming G20 meeting, while Hong Kong enjoyed healthy gains as dealers returned from a long break.

Tokyo shares climbed as the yen retreated again after posting strong gains on Wednesday, while there was little reaction to news Japan was stuck in recession as its economy shrunk for a third straight quarter in October-December.

Hong Kong, which was closed from Monday to Wednesday for Chinese New Year, added 0.85 percent, or 198.09 points, to end at 23,413.25 as investors caught up with a regional advance over the same period.

Tokyo was up 0.50 percent, or 55.87 points, higher at 11,307.28, while Sydney gained 0.66 percent, or 33.2 points, to 5,036.9, its highest since September 2008.

Seoul was up 0.18 percent, or 3.54 points, to close at 1,979.61.

Shanghai and Taipei are closed for public holidays.

Eyes are now on Moscow, where the world's 20 major economies will meet on Friday with concerns emerging of a possible global war in which nations weaken their currencies in order to boost exports.

"It will be one of the most important (G20 meetings) for quite some time in terms of markets," said Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac Institutional Bank in Sydney.

"The risk for currencies is whether there are strong comments from some of the many officials, with their different viewpoints," he told Dow Jones Newswires.

Talk has centred on Japan's recent drive to pump more cash into the markets to kick-start the economy and inflation, which has in turn sent the yen tumbling.

A statement from the Group of Seven (G7) top industrialised nations this week was said to have put a shot across Tokyo's bows, saying it supported market-driven moves in forex markets, sending the yen higher on Wednesday.

However, the unit on Thursday resumed its downward trend that began in November as dealers bet on aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan.

In the afternoon the dollar bought 93.67 yen, compared with 93.46 yen in New York late on Wednesday, while the euro fetched 125.88 yen, from 125.70 yen.

That compared with 92.85 yen to the dollar and 124.85 yen to the euro in Asia earlier Wednesday.

The euro also sat at $1.3440 against $1.3450.

Tokyo released data showing the economy contracted 0.1 percent in October-December from the previous quarter, and expanded just 1.9 percent in 2012 from the previous year, when Japan was hit by the quake-tsunami disaster.

The BoJ later wrapped up a two-day policy meeting, holding off making any new announcements after last month adopting a two percent inflation target and unveiling fresh easing measures.

However, it gave an upbeat assessment of the economy, saying it appeared to have stopped weakening, adding: "Exports continue to decrease, but the pace of decrease has been moderating."

There were also signs of a pick-up in overseas markets. "Japan's economy is expected to level off more or less for the time being, and thereafter, it will return to a moderate recovery path," it said.

Oil prices rose, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March up 12 cents to $97.13 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for April gaining 10 cents to $117.98.

Gold was at $1,643.25 by 1040 GMT, compared with $1,647.77 late Wednesday.

In other markets:

-- Manila slipped 0.22 percent, or 14.58 points, to close at 6,513.41.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. dropped 0.69 percent to 2,860 pesos and Semirara Mining Group fell 7.9 percent to 237.20 pesos.

-- Wellington ended 0.42 percent, or 17,80 points, higher at 4,239.20.

Fletcher Building gaining 1.01 percent to NZ$9.03 and Telecom Corp down 2.20 percent at NZ$2.22.

-- Singapore closed down 0.32 percent, or 10.57 points to 3,290.47.

DBS Bank dropped 0.60 percent to Sg$15.01, while Singapore Airlines gained 0.28 percent to Sg$10.86.

-- Kuala Lumpur shares lost 0.27 of a point, or 0.02 percent, to close at 1,630.89.

UEM Land added 5.2 percent to 2.22 ringgit, Petronas Dagangan rose 1.5 percent to 22.78 while Felda Global Ventures fell 0.4 percent to 4.49 ringgit.

-- Jakarta ended up 17.11 points, or 0.37 percent, at 4,588.67.

Astra Agro Lestari gained 0.53 percent to 19,000 rupiah and Ramayana Lestari Sentosa rose 3.57 percent to 1,160 rupiah.

-- Bangkok rose 0.83 percent or 12.63 points to close at 1,526.74

Banpu added 0.52 percent to 383.00 baht, and PTT Plc edged up 0.28 percent to 362.00 baht.

-- Mumbai fell 0.57 percent or 110.9 points to 19,497.18 points.

Bharti Airtel fell 4.02 percent to 312.4 rupees, and Reliance Communications fell 4.27 percent to 67.2 rupees.

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