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Asia stocks mixed, benchmarks close to year highs

BANGKOK Asian stock markets remained in a holding pattern Thursday as investors assessed President Barack Obama's comments that reaching a budget deal to prevent the U.S. from a possible recession was "not that tough" and could even be done quickly.

Obama's remarks follow days of contentious negotiations between the White House and Congress on a deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic spending cuts and tax increases at the start of next year. Without a deal, the U.S. could fall back into recession and drag much of the world down with it.

"A lot of these markets are close to year highs," said Andrew Sullivan, an independent analyst based in Hong Kong. "With only 12 trading days until Christmas, there's a lot of hesitation about pushing markets further. People are looking at various things and not having quite enough confidence to jump in."

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.6 percent, in part buoyed by a weaker yen, to 9,528.38. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 1,948.04. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.1 percent to 22,246.37. Benchmarks in Indonesia, New Zealand and the Philippines rose while Singapore and mainland China fell.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3 percent to 4,508.50 despite the government reporting a surprise drop in unemployment, dampening hopes for an interest rate cut by Reserve Bank of Australia at its February meeting.


Wall Street stocks ended mostly higher Wednesday after Obama was quoted telling business leaders in Washington that, despite a deep divide on critical issues, political leaders "can probably solve this in about a week, it's not that tough." The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.6 percent to close at 13,034.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.2 percent to close at 1,409.28. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.8 percent to 2,973.70.

Obama is demanding that Republicans agree to raise tax rates for the richest Americans as part of a deal to rein in future deficits. Republican leaders say they will agree to higher revenue, but they want to close loopholes or reduce tax breaks rather than raise rates.

Chris Weston of IG Markets in Melbourne said in a market commentary that "there are distant signs that both parties should come to at least a short-term agreement. Certainly the market is seeing it that way and giving the situation the benefit of the doubt."

Among individual stocks, Japan's Yamaha Motor Corp. rose 3.1 percent. Sharp Corp. jumped 6.1 percent. Kyodo News Agency, citing sources without identifying them, said the struggling electronics firm will start selling U.S. solar power company SunPower Corp.'s household solar panels to strengthen its own solar panel business.

Benchmark oil for January delivery was down 13 cents to $87.75 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 62 cents to finish at $87.88 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3055 from $1.3079 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 82.48 from 82.35 yen.

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