The major stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region closed lower on Friday as investors took some profits and braced for more news on the methodology of stress tests for U.S. banks. Although several bellwether companies reported better-than-expected results, investors preferred to wait and watch ahead of the weekend.

In Asian trading, crude oil was steady at around $49.89 a barrel after posting modest gains overnight. The commodity extended its gains on Thursday in U.S. trading as a weaker dollar outweighed another rise in weekly inventories amid the release of mixed economic news. Crude oil closed at $49.62 a barrel, up 77 cents on Thursday.

After moving in a listless manner for a considerable length of time, stocks on Wall Street managed to edge higher during the last few minutes on Thursday, as financials lead the charge ahead of the Treasury's announcement regarding measures for bank stress tests. Amid a combination of some mixed corporate news and some disappointing economic reports, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.89%, the Nasdaq Composite moved up 0.37% and the S&P 500 index closed up nearly 1.0%.

In economic news, a report released by the Labor Department showed that jobless claims rose to 640,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 613,000, while another report from the National Association of Realtors showed that the annual rate of existing home sales in the month of March fell 3.0 percent to 4.57 million. Economists had expected existing home sales to slip to a 4.65 million-unit rate.

The Japanese market closed sharply lower as traders cut their long positions ahead of the release of earnings reports from major Japanese firms next week. The benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed at 8,708, down 139 points or 1.57% and the Topix index of all First Section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange fell 9 points or 1.1% to 830. Volume was higher at about 2.7 billion shares.

Automakers closed weaker after the Japanese yen strengthened to as much as 96.89 yen against the U.S. dollar on Thursday, a level not seen since March 30.Honda Motor fell 1.47%, Suzuki closed down 0.89%, Toyota declined 2.06%, Nissan tumbled nearly 5% and Mazda fell 3.54%.

Steel maker JFE Holdings and its smaller rival Kobe Steel fell more than 3% each. After the close of trading hours, JFE Holdings reported a net profit of 194.2 billion yen ($2 billion) for the fiscal year 2009, down from the 261.9 billion yen reported a year earlier.

Banking stocks bucked the declining trend to end mostly higher. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group advanced 3.35%, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group rallied 4.57% and Mizuho Financial Group gained 3.12%, but Resona Holdings moved down 1.12%

Mizuho Financial Group said yesterday it suffered an estimated net loss of 580 billion yen ($5.9 billion) in the past financial year to March.

Sumitomo Metal Mining advanced 3.67% after it has posted 21.5 billion yen in net income for the year ended March, sharply higher than its forecast.

Brokerages closed mixed. While Daiwa Securities Group ended down 0.96% and Shinko Securities slumped 7.75%, T&D Holdings gained 3.25% and Nomura Holdings rose 1.17% ahead of its earnings release. Nomura Holdings reported a fourth-quarter net loss of 217.08 billion yen compared to a net loss of 153.85 billion yen in the prior year quarter.

Among other notable stocks, electronics maker Pioneer Corp plunged 6.55% on profit taking after rallying nearly 45% in the past two sessions. Mobile carrier KDDI Corp tumbled 5.17% as its profit forecast fell short of market expectations.

On the economic front, the U.S. economy needs painful measures to get out of the recession, Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said Thursday.

Addressing the Japan Society in New York, Shirakawa said, I think the U.S. economy needs to work out excesses, which include unsustainable financial leverage, household over-indebtedness, and perhaps the over-extension of the financial industry. This will be painful but inescapable.

The Australian market closed lower, as traders cut their positions ahead of the weekend amid lower U.S. index futures and weakness in the other Asian markets.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed at 3,712, down 30 points or 0.82% and the broader All Ordinaries index moved down 27 points or 0.74% to 3,668.

Mining services provider Macmahon Holdings was in a trading halt as it prepared to announce an updated company outlook.

Gold miner Newcrest Mining surged up 5.57% and Lihir Gold rallied 3.46% after gold prices rallied to a three-week high of $900 an ounce. Among the big miners, Iluka Resources moved down 0.93% and BHP Billiton declined 1.32%, but Rio Tinto rose 2.18%.

Energy stocks closed mixed. Woodside Petroleum rose 0.40% despite reporting a slight fall in first quarter revenue on a 20% rise in production. However, Oil Search fell 1.79% and Santos moved down 0.91%.

Origin Energy rose 2.09% after New Zealand's Contact Energy, in which the company holds a 51.4% stake, reported third quarter operating earnings broadly in-line with market expectations.

Banking stocks closed mostly lower on profit taking. ANZ edged down 0.70%, Commonwealth Bank fell 2.78%, Westpac Banking declined 1.37% and investment bank Macquarie Group Bank lost 1.67%, but National Australia Bank rose 0.91%,

OZ Minerals soared 7.14% after China Minmetals Group won conditional approval from the Australian government for its bid to buy most of OZ Mineral's mines. Gud Holdings plunged 6.34% after it sought to raise its capital to strengthen its balance sheet after a fall in profit.

Building materials supplier James Hardie Industries NV moved down 1.89% on saying that it is considering appealing a court decision that found against the company and ten former directors and officers.

Macquarie Airports closed down 0.28% even as it reported a solid result for its first quarter of 2009 despite steep declines in passenger numbers at Sydney Airport. Among media stocks, News Corp and Seven Network fell more than 3% each.

The South Korean market closed notably down as investors took profits after a 3-day rally. The benchmark KOSPI closed at 1,354, down 15 points or 1.07%. Volume was higher at 664.46 million shares worth 8.01 trillion won (US$5.9 billion) and decliners outnumbered advancers by 550 to 285.

Hynix Semiconductor tumbled 4.73% after the chip- maker reported a sixth straight quarterly loss for the three months to March. The first-quarter net loss widened to 1.19 trillion won ($894 million) from 674.8 billion won a year earlier.

Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics slumped 5.58% on reporting a 72% drop in quarterly profits after more losses at its microchip and LCD television divisions.

Among automakers, Kia Motors tumbled 4.21% on reporting $73 million in net profit for Q1, Hyundai Motor fell 2.06% and Ssangyong Motor moved down 3.41%

Banking stocks closed stronger. Korea Exchange Bank rose 0.42%, Woori Finance moved up 1.51% and KB Financial, the holding firm of Kookmin Bank advanced 1.47%.

Shipbuilders closed mixed. While Hyundai Heavy gained 3.18%, Samsung Heavy Industries fell 1.44% and Daewoo Shipbuilding closed flat.

Among other notable stocks, steel maker POSCO closed down 0.13%, Korean Air Line fell 2.74%, oil stock SK drifted down 0.42%, LG Electronics tumbled 4.50% and LG Display LCD ended down 2.05%, but energy stock KEPCO rose 0.96%, telecom stock KT added 1.66% and SK Telecom closed up 0.54%.

In economic news, South Korean gross domestic product unexpectedly expanded by 0.1 percent in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the previous three months, the central bank said on Friday in an advanced reading, possibly averting a technical recession. Analysts had been expecting a 0.8 percent quarterly decline following the 5.6 percent fall in the previous three months.

The New Zealand market closed almost flat ignoring a positive close on Wall Street overnight. The benchmark NZX-50 moved down a modest 3 points or 0.09% to 2,656.Turnover was worth $113.8 million and decliners outnumbered advancers by 39 to 32.

Air New Zealand gained 3.74% despite reporting a 7.6 percent drop in its March passenger numbers. Resins maker Nuplex advanced 3.03% after it has raised an additional NZ$26.7 million though a call option on its right issue.

Fletcher Building gained 2.93% as investors eyed a better yield on the stock ahead of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's interest rate decision next week. The central bank is widely expected to cut its official cash rate by another 50 basis points to 2.5 percent next Thursday.

Cavalier Corp rose 3.03% after prices for carpet-type fleece at a Napier auction rose between 2% and 5%. Nuplex was unchanged at 33 cents after being placed on a trading halt.

Contact Energy closed down 0.36% as it generated less electricity in the three months to March, with power generation falling 6.4 percent to 2,236 gigawatt-hours from 2,389 gigawatt-hours in the same quarter a year earlier. Lion Nathan was in a trading halt pending an announcement regarding talks with Japan's Kirin Holdings about acquisition of remaining shares.

Among other notable stocks, top stock Telecom moved down 1.52%, Sanford fell 2.65%, Infratil declined 2.55%, Pumpkin Patch closed down 0.86%, Sky City Entertainment shed 1.09%, retailer Warehouse Group declined 1.16% and Vector closed down 1.39%.

On the other hand, TrustPower rose 0.57%, Steel and Tube closed up 0.80% and Hallenstein Glasson moved up 2.55%, while jeweler Michael Hill closed unchanged.

Meanwhile, after trading choppily in early trading, the Indian market bounced back sharply on fund buying. Stocks across the sectors were trading sharply higher. The benchmark Sensex was last trading at the day's high of 11,302, up 167 points or 1.50% over the previous close.

Among the other markets in the region, China's Shanghai Composite index moved down 0.62% and Singapore's STI Straits Times index slipped 0.38%, but Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.29% and Taiwan's TWII Weighed index closed up 0.09%.

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