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Asian Markets In Cautious Mood

( - With most of the markets closed for the Lunar New Year's Day holidays, trading remains highly lackluster in the Asian region on Monday. A none too positive lead from Wall Street is also contributing to the extremely sluggish movements in the markets that are open for trading.

The Australian stock market is trading slightly weak with investors mostly treading cautiously and taking some profits following a none too positive lead from Wall Street.

Mining, healthcare and information technology stocks are trading weak. Industrial stocks are finding some support, while financial, energy and consumer discretionary stocks are trading mixed.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index is down 13.1 points or 0.3 percent at 4,226.5. The broader All Ordinaries index is trading at 4,289, down 14 points or 0.3 percent from its previous close.

Among bank stocks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia as well as National Australia Bank are down marginally and Westpac is trading 1 percent down, while ANZ Bank is trading in positive territory with a gain of 0.3 percent. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank is up nearly a percent, while Bank of Queensland is down with a loss of 1.3 percent.

Among miners, BHP Billiton is down 0.8 percent, Rio Tinto is up marginally, Newcrest Mining is down with a loss of 1.2 percent and Fortescue Metals is trading lower by over 2.8 percent.

In the energy space, Oil Search, Caltex Australia and Santos are up 0.3 to 0.6 percent, while Origin Energy and Woodside Petroleum are trading in negative territory with modest losses.

Onesteel, Ramsay Healthcare, Westfield Retail Trust, Campbell Brothers, Dexus Property Group, News Corporation, Mirvac Group and Commonwealth Property Office Fund are down 1.5 to 2.5 percent.

Echo Entertainment Group, Downer EDI, Alumina, Qantas Airways, Toll Holdings and Leighton Holdings are trading higher by 2 to 2.5 percent. Paladin Energy, Incitec Pivot and David Jones are also trading notably higher.

APA Group shares are up more than a percent after the company announced a further expansion of the Goldfields Gas Pipeline in Western Australia's Pilbara mining region. It is the second expansion of the Goldfields Gas Pipeline announced by APA in a month, with the first, an expansion backed by a 20-year contract with Rio Tinto, having been announced in December 2011.

On the economic front, the producer price index in Australia was up 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to the previous three months, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. That was slightly below forecasts for an increase of 0.4 percent following the 0.6 percent gain in the third quarter.

On a yearly basis, producer prices rose 2.9 percent - again just shy of forecasts for an increase of 3.0 percent following the 2.7 percent gain in the previous three months.

The increase in producer prices was mainly due to rises in the prices received for industrial machinery and equipment manufacturing, other manufacturing, and motor vehicle and part manufacturing. It was partly offset by falls in the prices received for other agriculture and flour mill and cereal food manufacturing.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar opened higher and hit its best level in almost three months. In early trades, the Aussie was quoting at US$1.0468, up nearly 0.6 percent from Friday's close of US$1.0409.

After a weak and cautious start, the Japanese stock market rallied smartly with investors indulging in some brisk buying at a few front line counters.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index, which declined to 8,745 in early trades, but rallied to 8,795 subsequently, was up 15.8 points or 0.2 percent at 8,782.2 when the morning session ended.

Steel, pharmaceuticals and oil stocks opened weak, but came off their lows. Shares from automobile, financial, insurance and marine transport sections exhibited a mixed trend.

Shares of Olympus Corp surged more than 7.5 percent following the Tokyo Stock Exchange allowing the company to keep its stock listed. Furukawa Electric and Toshiba Corp shares gained over 4 percent.

Sony Corp., Taiheiyo Cement, Furukawa, Nippon Light Metals, Dai-ichi Life, Daiwa Securities Group, Sumco, Softbank, Nippon Yusen, Fujikura, IHI, Nippon Sheet Glass and Mitsumi Electric moved up by 2 to 3.5 percent.

Nippon Suisan, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, Fuji Heavy Industries, Mitsui Mining, Nomura Holdings, Mitsubishi Paper, Ebara Corp, Citizen Holdings and Mitsui OSK Lines also posted strong gains.

Among automobile stocks, Honda Motor, Mazda Motor and Toyota Motor moved higher, gaining between 0.8 percent and 1.2 percent. Isuzu Motors edged up marginally. Nissan Motor and Hino Motors were down with modest losses and Suzuki Motor lost over 1 percent, while Mitsubishi Motor traded flat.

Among bank stocks, Aozora Bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Mizuho Financial and Shinsei Bank gained 0.6 to 1.3 percent. Shizuoka Bank was up marginally, while Chiba Bank and Bank of Yokohama were trading modestly lower at the break.

Nippon Paper Group, JX HD, Tokio Marine, Panasonic Corp, Oji Paper, Nisshin Steel and Chubu Electric Power lost 1.5 to 3 percent.

Tosoh Corp, Dainippon Sumito, Sumitomo Chemicals, Asahi Group Holdings, Inpex and Japan Tobacco were among the other notable losers.

The Bank of Japan will hold this year's first policy board meeting on Monday and Tuesday. The bank is likely to revise the Outlook for Economic Activity and Prices, compiled in October. The central bank may slightly scale back its real economic growth rate estimate from its previous 2.2 percent forecast.

According to a report from the Bank of Japan, loan demand among Japanese corporates declined in the fourth quarter.

The Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey by the Bank of Japan revealed Monday that the indicator for firms' loan demand was at -2 in the three months to December compared to 0 in the previous survey. Demand among local governments remained unchanged with the index scoring 0 compared to -1 in the previous period. The indicator for households' loan demand was also at 0 following -1 in the previous survey.

The banks expect loan demand among corporates to increase in the next three months. The corresponding indicator is expected to rise to +3 during the first quarter of 2012. The index reflecting loan demand among local governments is forecast to be at +1 and that for households at +2, the survey report said.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded slightly below 77 yen in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 77.02 to the U.S. dollar.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand is up marginally. Markets in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are all closed for Lunar New Year's Day holidays. Markets across the region ended mostly higher on Friday.

On Wall Street, stocks turned in a relatively lackluster performance on Friday, as traders appeared reluctant to make any significant moves. A mixed reaction to the latest batch of earnings news contributed to the choppy trading seen throughout the session.

While thNasdaq and the S&P 500 closed nearly flat, the Dow ended the session firmly in positive territory. The Dow climbed 97 points or 0.8 percent to 12,720.5, while the S&P 500 edged up 0.9 points or 0.1 percent to 1,315.4 and the Nasdaq ended down 1.6 points or 0.1 percent at 2,786.7.

Major European markets posted modest losses on Friday. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index, the German DAX index, and the French CAC 40 index all edged down by 0.2 percent.

Crude oil futures extended losses for a third session to close below $100 a barrel on Friday despite a weak dollar. Prices were impacted mostly on concerns over the outcome of Greece's talks with private creditors and weak demand for gasoline in the U.S. Light sweet crude for February delivery dropped $2.26 or 2.3 percent to 


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