Asian trade: Asian markets are strengthening for a third day in a row, following the slightly negative close seen in the major U.S. index. Additionally, U.S. futures traded flat during the Asian session.

In the Japanese Nikkei, banks were among the top gainers tonight. The financials extended the gains started a few days back, when a number of major banks said they expect to show profits in the first quarter of 2009. This is a huge change from a few months back, when banks were forced to write-down billions in toxic assets.

Despite the bank’s rally, the pressure remains high in the car-industry. A Bloomberg report shows that Mazda, one of Japans leading car-manufacturers, might have to apply for a government loan. The car-company is lacking the strong backing from investors, and its credit rating is among the lowest in the industry, making loans very expensive. Consequently, this limits the companies’ ability to raise any new cash, something that could hurt its activity.

Remaining in the same business, Chrysler said that it would get as much as $10 billion in technologic advances from a partnership with Fiat. Chrysler appears to be positive about this deal, and additionally, the company is confident that it can repay the loan taken from the Treasury within the next 5 years, as long as the car market improves as expected. Chryslers forecast is that the U.S. car market will grow by almost 60% over the next 5 years, which is hard to believe.

Tonight, the Nikkei rose 109.81 points (1.43%) to 7,813.96. The Australian S&P/Asx gained 54.60 points (1.63%) to 3,403.00.

Crude oil lost some ground, after hitting a two-month high earlier. Crude oil for April delivery fell $0.30 to $47.00.

Gold moved very little in the Asian session. Bullion for immediate delivery rose $1.20 to $923.20.