Asian shares edge up in quiet pre-holiday trade

Asian shares edge up in quiet pre-holiday trade

Hong Kong: Asian shares mostly edged higher in quiet trade on Wednesday as investors began to ease back ahead of the end-of-year holidays.

Tokyo edged up 0.07%, Hong Kong was 0.59% higher, Seoul rose 0.15% and Singapore added 0.48% while Sydney was flat as traders wound down ahead of the Christmas break.

Shanghai slipped 0.16%.

Japanese shares were weighed by weaker-than-expected export figures as well as profit-taking after the index hit a seven-month high on Tuesday.

The official trade data showed Japan’s exports in November rose 9.1% from a year earlier compared with 7.8% growth in October.

It was the first time in nine months that growth in the export sector, which is key to lifting the economy out of the doldrums, accelerated but the rate still fell short of market expectations for a rise of more than 10%.

“It’s a very difficult day to trade fresh positions ahead of tomorrow’s public holiday," Kenichi Hirano, operating officer at Tachibana Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Japanese markets will be closed Thursday for the Emperor’s birthday.

Markets, which had fallen on Monday amid concerns over tensions on the Korean peninsula, took their cue from a strong showing on Wall Street, where the Dow jumped 0.48% to a two-year high on the back of upbeat earnings.

The under-pressure euro clawed back from a record low against the Swiss franc in Asian trade as concerns over the eurozone debt crisis continued to linger

Against the safe-haven Swiss unit, the single currency hit a fresh low of 1.2530 in early Asian trade but later recovered to 1.2551.

The euro lifted to 1.3134 dollars from 1.3093 dollars in New York late Tuesday and to 110.02 yen from 109.68 yen.

The slip came after Moody’s rating agency warned Tuesday it could downgrade Portugal due to its massive debt, while another agency, Fitch, said it could cut Greece to below investment grade.

After Greece and Ireland had to be bailed out this year other European members, mainly Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy are considered at risk in 2011.

“The euro is seen to stay weak as the sovereign debt problem will keep weighing on the currency," said Daisuke Karakama, market economist at Mizuho Corporate Bank.

The dollar fell to ¥83.78 from ¥83.90.

Oil hit a two-year high as freezing weather across China and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere pushed up demand.

Brent North Sea crude for February delivery rose 29 cents to $93.49 per barrel -- its highest since October 2008, while New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for February, gained 11 cents to $89.93.

“Oil prices remain supported on cold weather and strong demand indications, with Chinese oil demand, along with gasoline, diesel and jet fuel demand, surging to record highs in November," Barclays Capital said in a report.

Gold opened at 1,389.00-1,390.00 US dollars an ounce in Hong Kong, up from Tuesday’s close of 1,386.70-1,387.70.