Monday, the major markets across the Asia-Pacific region closed higher led by China and Hong Kong as the Chinese premier's upbeat assessment that the economy was doing better-than-expected helped boost sentiment. But gains were restricted as investors expressed caution ahead of key earning reports from leading U.S. companies.

After rising to above US$50 per barrel in New York trading on Friday, light sweet crude oil for May delivery was last trading weak at $49.31 a barrel, down nearly 2% due to sluggish energy demand in the world's biggest economy after the US energy stockpiles showed a large build-up in inventories last week

On Friday, stocks on Wall Street finished modestly higher after a relatively lackluster session as better-than-expected earnings from Citigroup and General Electric stoked optimism the economic slump may be abating.

Wall Street will be busy assessing report cards this week, as the season springs forward. IBM, Coca-Cola, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft are among the conglomerates scheduled to report during the course of this week. Armonk, New York-based technology giant International Business Machines Corp. is set to report first quarter results on April 20. Bank of America, Boston Scientific Corp., Eli Lilly & Co, Texas Instruments Inc., Halliburton Co and Weatherford International Limited are among the other big ones scheduled to announce their quarterly results on Monday.

The Japanese market recovered from its day's lows and closed higher for the third day in a row on bargain hunting amid hopes of an early recovery in the economy. While the benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 17 points or 0.19% to 8,925, the broader Topix index of all First Section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange closed at 848, up 3 points or 0.32%.

Cyclical stocks like iron & steel, nonferrous metals, high-techs and autos provided support, but stocks in the consumer finance, mining and food sector ended in the red.

Among automakers, Mazda rallied 5.69%, Honda gained 1.59%, Suzuki advanced 3.73% and Toyota added 1.31% but Nissan slipped 0.20%. In the technology space, Advantest rose 0.25% and Kyocera gained 1.01%, while Tokyo Electron fell 0.47% and Fujitsu declined 0.96%.

Toshiba Corp tumbled 4.82% on reports that it would raise $5 billion in capital as early as June to shore up its balance sheet. Sony Corp gained 2.51% after mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson, owned by Sweden's Ericsson and Sony, said on Friday that it is planning to cut one in five jobs this year in a battle to return to profit after a sluggish market brought a hefty first-quarter loss.

Steel producers Kobe Steel surged up 9.14% and Sumitomo Metal Industries soared 7.02% after Nomura Holdings Inc. upgraded the outlook for the steel industry to bullish and raised its target price on several key stocks.

Nippon Steel gained 4.34% on reports that Japan's steel makers agreed to cut steel prices by smaller-than-expected 10% in the face of a global auto sector slump.

In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group fell 3.31% and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group declined 0.33%, but Resona Holdings rose 1.20% and Mizuho Financial Group closed flat.

In economic news, convenience store sales in Japan continued to increase for the eleventh straight month in March. Data released by the Japan Franchise Association on Monday showed that sales at the country's convenience stores rose 4.2% year-on-year in March after rising 2% in February. A year ago, sales dropped 0.6% in March. In 2008, sales had risen 4.5% compared to the previous year.

In another development, a final report from Japan's Economic and Social Research Institute showed that the leading index was revised down to 75 from 75.2 in February. In January, the index stood at 76.7. At the same time, the coincident index was also revised down to 86 from 86.8, falling from a reading of 88.6 in January.

After rising as much as 1.2% earlier in the day, the Australian market closed lower as losses by the two biggest miners, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, dragged down the benchmarks. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed at 3,799, down 8 points or 0.2% and the All Ordinaries index also moved down 0.2% or 6 points to 3,722.

Despite a strong start, banking stocks closed mostly lower for the day. National Australia Bank moved down 0.41%, and Commonwealth Bank fell 1.35%, but Westpac Banking rose 0.20%.

Among miners, While Rio Tinto fell 2.03% on continued concern over the controversial Chinalco deal and speculation about iron ore prices, BHP Billiton declined 1.59% and Illuka Resources closed down 1.83%. Gold miners New Crest Mining and Lihir Gold also ended in negative terrain.

Australian coal-to-groceries conglomerate Wesfarmers tumbled 4% on saying that contract prices for steel-making coal from its Curragh mine in northern Australia would fall 59 percent.

Australia's second biggest steel company, OneSteel slumped nearly 5% after it has raised $584 million through a capital raising and entitlement offer that was well oversubscribed. Macquarie Airports fell 2.65% on reporting a fall in traffic across its airports in March, hit by capacity reductions in Europe.

Oil stocks bucked the declining trend. Woodside Petroleum rose 0.50% and Santos gained 2.31%, while Oil Search closed flat. Among retailers, Woolworths gained nearly 3%, Harvey Norman Holding rose 0.35% and David Jones added 2.33%.

Asciano Group jumped 33.20% on reports that eight groups, including Carlyle Group, TPG Capital and Asian energy and infrastructure operators, have submitted bids for the debt-laden company.

On the economic front, Australian producer prices were down 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the previous three months, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. That was sharply lower than analyst expectations for a 0.6 percent quarterly advance following the 1.3 percent increase in the fourth quarter of 2008. On an annual basis, PPI was up 4 percent versus forecasts for a 4.95 percent increase following the 6.4 percent gain in the previous three months.

The South Korean market finished a volatile session higher led by strong gains in the banking sector amid continued support from foreign institutional investors. The benchmark KOSPI rose 7 points or 0.56% to 1,336 and volume was moderate at 556.19 million shares worth 5.82 trillion won (US$4.36 billion). Advancers outnumbered decliners by 492 to 337.

Banking stocks closed stronger following better-than-expected earnings from Citigroup. Korea Exchange Bank closed up 2.06%, Woori Finance soared 6.59% and KB Financial, the holding firm of Kookmin Bank rallied 4.05%.

Tech stock Hynix Semiconductor rose 1.04% as spot prices for DRAM chips showed a firm trend on the DRAMeXchange. LG Display gained 1.11% on improved prospects for the flat-panel industry.

Automakers closed stronger. Kia Motors rallied 3.05%, Ssangyong Motor advanced 3.04% and Hyundai Motor closed up 0.92%.

Among other notable gainers, steel maker POSCO gained 0.12%, oil stock S-Oil rose 2.69% and energy stock KEPCO moved up 1.17%

However, market heavyweight Samsung Electronics slipped 0.84% on profit taking, LG Electronics fell 0.47%, shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding declined 1.45%, Korean Air Line drifted down 0.74% and Telecom stock SK Telecom moved down 0.80%

The New Zealand market closed modestly lower after two strong days of trading last week. The NZX-50 closed at 2,699, down 12 points or 0.46%.

Among notable decliners, Telecom fell 1.57%, Contact Energy declined 0.17%, Fletcher Building tumbled 3.11%, Sky City fell 2.01%, energy stock Vector declined 2.22% and Jeweler Michael Hill moved down 1.75%. Telecom and Fletcher Building were named in the list of the world's largest companies, the Forbes Global 2000.

Retailer Warehouse Group fell 1.69% after it has reiterated its forecast that profit growth will stall this year. Fisher and Paykel Appliances tumbled 4.26% as it neared the April 30 deadline to repay an $80 million bank loan.

Tourism Holdings fell 2.13% after the Tourism Industry Monitor survey said that demand for tourist operators fell 5% over the past three months and may worsen in the three months to June.

However, NZX gained 1.93% Pumpkin Patch rose 0.85%, Freightways added 1.88% and Trust Power gained 0.56%. Nuplex jumped 10.81% due to the closure of its rights issue on Monday. On the other hand, Steel and Tube and Hallenstein Glasson closed flat.

Among the other markets in the region, China's Shanghai Composite index rose 2.14%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 0.96%, Singapore's STI Straits Times index fell 1.14% and Taiwan's TWII Weighed index closed up 0.46%.

The Indian market fell into negative terrain in a volatile market after the European markets opened lower. The benchmark Sensex was last trading at 10,880, down 143 points or 1.30%, even as second-line stocks continued to outperform the benchmarks Sensex and Nifty.

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