The stock markets in the Asia-Pacific region closed mostly lower on Monday as investors resorted to profit taking following the recent strong gains. Strong cues from Wall Street on the back of better-than-expected economic data and easing concerns over the financial sector triggered a positive start in most of the Asian markets. However, the markets later pared their gains as investors turned cautious.

The U.S. markets benefited from better-than-expected jobs data and a positive reaction to the results of the government's stress tests of the nation's nineteen largest banks on Friday. The major averages closed firmly in positive territory, although off their best levels of the day. The Dow closed up 164.80 points or 2 percent at 8,574.65, the NASDAQ closed up 22.76 points or 1.3 percent at 1,739.00 and the S&P 500 closed up 21.84 points or 2.4 percent at 929.23.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar closed lower against the major Asian currencies on Friday as a better-than-expected U.S. jobs report bolstered hopes the global recession may be easing and dented demand for the safe-haven greenback.

In Tokyo, the dollar closed in a range of 98.27-98.29 yen, down 1.11 yen from Friday's close of 99.38-99.40 yen. In Seoul, the South Korean won closed at 1,237.9 won to the U.S. dollar, up from Friday's close of 1,247.0 won. In Sydney, the Australian dollar closed higher against the U.S. dollar at US$0.7658-0.7663, up from Friday's close of US$0.7569-0.7572. In Wellington, the New Zealand dollar closed at US$0.6099, up from Friday's close of US$0.5936.

The Japanese stock market extended gains to the fifth straight session on Monday and closed at a six-month high amid choppy trading. However, the market pared strong gains made earlier in the day.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index, which breached the 9,500 mark for the first time in six months in the morning, pared gains to close at 9,451.98, up 19.15 points or 0.20%. The broader Topix Index of all First Section Issues added 5.10 points or 0.57% to close at 900.45.

Banking stocks extended gains from the previous week as worries about the financial sector eased. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group gained 2.90%, Mizuho Financial Group surged 5.69%, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial advanced 1.96% and Resona Holdings added 0.61%.

Shares of Shinsei Bank gained 5.97% and Aozora Bank rose 8.52% after the Nikkei business daily reported that the two banks have reached a basic agreement to begin merger by summer 2010. Brokerage Nomura Holdings jumped 4.55%.

Shares of Toyota Motor Corp. slumped 4.77% on concerns over the company suffering a possible net loss of 550 billion yen for the year ending March 2010. On Friday, the company reported a net loss for the fourth quarter, primarily reflecting the impact of the continuing slump in demand in the global automotive market and the appreciation of yen against the U.S. dollar and euro. Other auto stocks also closed lower. Honda declined 1.69%, Nissan gave away 2.09% and Mazda lost 2.26%.

Among exporters, Canon declined 1.76%, Kyocera eased 0.88% and Sony lost 1.46%. Toshiba Corp. surged 7.2% after the company announced a plan to raise capital by about 500 billion yen. With this increase, the company intends to accelerate its restructuring efforts, cut unprofitable electronics and semiconductor products, and bolster its nuclear power plant business.

Tire maker Bridgestone tumbled 6.99% after the company widened its operating loss forecast for the six months ended June to 40 billion yen from 12 billion yen, citing a fall in sales.

The South Korean market closed modestly higher in a choppy session on Monday as worries about the financial sector eased.

The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or KOSPI, gained 3.03 points or 0.21% to close at 1,415.16.

Among automakers, Hyundai Motor eased 0.92%, while affiliate Kia Motors surged 7.08% and Ssangyong Motor gained 1.50%.

Most of the tech stocks closed higher on hopes of an increase in demand following a global recovery. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics dipped 1.05%, while Hynix Semiconductor rose 2.16%, LG Display LCD advanced 1.75% and LG Electronics added 0.49%.

In the banking sector, Woori Finance gained 1.75%, KB Financial, the holding firm of Kookmin Bank, added 0.88%, Hana Financial rose 4.91% and Shinhan Financial closed unchanged.

Oil issue SK Holdings added 0.40%, while energy stock KEPCO rose 3.78%. According to media reports, the government is considering a move to raise electricity and gas prices within the first half of the year to help utility companies make up for past losses.

Steel maker Hyundai Steel advanced 1.83%, while Steel maker POSCO lost 0.69%. Among shipbuilders, Hyundai Heavy Industries added 0.81%, Samsung Heavy Industries gained 0.32% and Daewoo Shipbuilding gave away 0.20%. Samsung Heavy Industries Co., the world's second-largest shipyard, said Monday that its first-quarter earnings dropped 12 percent from a year earlier due to increased costs of raw materials.

In the telecom space, SK Telecom advanced 1.66% and KT Corp. dipped 1.09%.

The Australian market closed lower on Monday on profit-taking. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index declined 15.70 points or 0.40% to close at 3,926.00 and the broader All Ordinaries Index lost 9.10 points or 0.23% to close at 3910.50.

On the economic front, the National Australia Bank said on Monday that an index measuring business conditions in Australia was up 7 points in April, posting a score of -10. That's up from -17 in March and -22 in February. Business confidence eased a point, from -13 to -14, while export sales jumped 26 points to -4 and forward orders climbed 7 points to -11.

In the banking sector, ANZ Bank declined 1.64%, Commonwealth Bank eased 0.16%, National Australia Bank lost 0.79% and Westpac gave away 0.73%.

In the mining sector, BHP Billiton eased 0.08% and Rio Tinto slipped 3.24%. Among gold miners, Lihir Gold advanced 0.67%, Newcrest Mining lost 1.99% and Sino Gold closed unchanged.

Among energy stocks, Oil Search slid 4.92%, while Woodside surged 3.96%. Shares of Santos remained in a trading halt. The company said that it will raise as much as A$3 billion in a share offering, as it pays down debt and raises funds for a liquefied natural gas project in Papua New Guinea.

Brewer Lion Nathan said it agreed to the terms for a US$2.5 billion takeover by Japanese brewer Kirin. The company had been in talks with Kirin, which already owns 47% of its shares, since late last month. However, shares of Lion Nathan eased 0.26%.

The New Zealand market closed lower after climbing to a more than six-month high in the morning. The market pared its gains after the opening of the Australian market.

The benchmark NZX 50 Index lost 43.92 points or 1.53% to close at 2829.22 and the broader NZX All Capital Index declined 33.32 points or 1.14% to settle at 2889.48.

Among the top stocks, Telecom dipped 4.04%, Contact Energy declined 2.89% and Fletcher Building lost 2.42%.

In the retail sector, Hallenstein Glasson added 0.37%, Pumpkin Patch added 1.50% while The Warehouse Group eased 0.52%. Jeweler Michael Hill gained 6.25%.

Among other notable stocks, Nuplex advanced 2.56%, Sky City slid 3.29% and Steel & Tube closed unchanged. Energy scrip TrustPower added 0.67% and Vector advanced 0.91%. Dual-listed ANZ Banking slid 3.75%, Westpac declined 1.92% and Lion Nathan lost 1.68%.

Other Asian markets:

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index lost 302 points or 1.74% to close at 17,088, Singapore's Straits Times Index shed 72 points or 3.22% to settle at 2,166, China's Shanghai Composite Index declined 46 points or 1.75% to finish at 2,580, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite Index gave away 32 points or 1.71% to close at 1,831 and Malaysia's KLSE Composite Index edged down 1 point or 0.12% to settle at 1,026.

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