Asian Stock Markets Rise Modestly in Thin Trading

Asian stock markets rose modestly in thin trade Monday as shares in commodities producers and Japanese financials gained ground.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 stock average edged higher by 7.65 points, or about 0.1, percent to 8,747.17, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index added 0.7 percent to 14,286.02.

Benchmarks in Singapore and Australia climbed more than 1 percent, while those in Shanghai and South Korea traded flat. Markets in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines were closed.

With many investors away for the holiday and their books already closed for the year, trade across the region was quiet and marked by low volumes. The recent rash of government stimulus measures helped underpin sentiment despite worries that the first half of next year would see the global economy and company profits erode further.

"There's this expectation and hope that governments could put a floor in for the economy and therefore lead to a better second half in 2009," said Song Seng Wun, economist at CIMB-GK in Singapore.

Among the session's best performers were energy companies after oil prices hovered near $40 a barrel as concerns about supply from the Middle East flared along with fighting between Israel and Gaza.

Australia's Woodside Petroleum Ltd gained 5.7 percent, top Japanese refiner Nippon Oil Corp. jumped 6.5 percent, and Chinese upstream producer CNOOC rose 3.8 percent in Hong Kong trade.

Japanese financials were higher amid reports the country's No. 2 non-life insurer, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group Holdings Inc, was in merger talks with two smaller rivals to create the country's largest non-life insurer. Mitsui soared 8.3 percent.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery rose $1.65 to $39.37 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by midafternoon in Singapore. The contract on Friday rose $2.36 to settle at $37.71.

The dollar weakened to 90.37 yen, down from 90.75. The euro traded higher at $1.4244 from 1.4031.

Friday in New York, Wall Street staged a modest advance after the government came to the aid of General Motors' financing arm, but worries about dismal holiday spending capped gains.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 47.07, or 0.6 percent, to 8,515.55, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.65, or 0.5 percent, to 872.80.

U.S. stock futures fell early Monday, pointing to a lower open on Wall Street.

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