Asian Markets Extend Gains, Nikkei up 0.4 Percent

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HONG KONG – Asian stock markets were mostly higher Tuesday, shrugging off lackluster trade in the U.S. and Europe amid growing optimism the world economy will recover later this year.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 stock average rose 33.28 points, or 0.4 percent, to 9,076.40 as a weaker yen boosted exporters like Sony Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp.

The Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.8 percent to 1,915, while South Korea's Kospi was up 1 percent and Australia's key benchmark added 1.1 percent. Hong Kong was the only major regional market to fall, with the Hang Seng index down 175.90 points, or 1.1 percent, at 15,387.41 points.

The stronger performance was despite muted trade in the U.S. and Europe, where markets succumbed to selling as investors took profits from recent rallies.

After a disastrous 2008, Asian stocks have showed strength of late as foreign capital begins trickling back amid speculation that government stimulus policies around the world will help Asian equities outperform this year, analysts said.

"The market is likely to trend higher," said Alex Tang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi in Hong Kong. "Markets in the region are definitely cheap and major players have been accumulating over the last three weeks."

Overnight in the U.S., caution overtook the encouragement investors found in President-elect Barack Obama's calls for an economic stimulus package.

The Dow closed lost 81.80, or 0.9 percent, to 8,952.89, but closed off its lows. Broader stock indicators posted more modest declines, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index falling 4.35, or 0.5 percent, to 927.45.

Wall Street futures were slightly lower. Dow futures fell 23 points, or 0.3 percent, to 8,895 and S&P500 futures slipped 1.2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 926.20.

Oil prices were slightly lower after rising sharply overnight on concerns about Israel's ground offensive in Gaza and a dispute between Ukraine and Russia over gas imports.

In Asian trade, light, sweet crude for February delivery was down 58 cents at $48.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.The contract rose $2.47 cents to settle at $48.81 a barrel overnight.

In currencies, the dollar was slightly lower at 93.05 yen, compared to 92.86 yen earlier, after advancing in recent days. The euro trade lower at $1.3597.