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Asia markets higher in quiet trade

Jan 14 2013 07:34 AFP

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Hong Kong - Asian shares were mostly higher on Monday, adding to recent strong gains, but trade was muted as investors took to the sidelines ahead of speeches from central bank chiefs.

The euro made further gains after last week's unexpectedly positive comments by European Central Bank head Mario Draghi, and the yen continued to weaken against the dollar after the Japanese government unveiled a stimulus package on Friday.

Hong Kong was up 0.58%, Australia added 0.20%, Seoul put on 0.33% and Shanghai was up 1.42%.

But Singapore bucked the regional trend by slipping 0.46% after the government introduced new measures last week to cool the local property market, including making it more expensive for foreigners to buy property.

Tokyo was closed for a public holiday.

There was no clear lead from Wall Street, where stocks closed in mixed territory on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.13%, the broad-based S&P 500 was flat, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.12%.

With no major data releases in Asia scheduled for Monday, investors awaited cues in upcoming speeches by central bankers, as well as Chinese growth data due later in the week.

US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke was set to appear later Monday after minutes from the last meeting of Fed policymakers showed they were divided over how long the central bank should continue asset purchases to support the economy.

At their December meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee approved open-ended quantitative easing, but some members thought the purchases should continue until the end of 2013 while others thought they should end sooner, according to the minutes.

Investors in Tokyo were awaiting a possible speech from Bank of Japan chief Maasaki Shirakawa on Tuesday, which could shed light on the possibility of the central bank setting its inflation target at two percent after coming under pressure from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Traders were taking a breather following recent volatility as US lawmakers haggled for weeks before clinching a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff", and before the release of fourth quarter growth figures for China on Friday, analysts said.

Analysts hope the figures will confirm a pick-up in the world's second-biggest economy, which has been suggested by recent data.

In Asian morning trade, the euro was at $1.3399 compared to $1.3341 in the US late on Friday. The US dollar was at ¥89.51 from ¥89.18, and the euro traded at ¥119.93 from ¥119.00.

Oil was up, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, gaining 42 cents to $93.98 a barrel, and Brent North Sea crude for February delivery rising 11 cents to $110.75.

Gold was at 1,666.10 at 03:05 GMT compared with $1 669.80 late on Friday.

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