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Asia: Stocks mixed, oil slumps ahead of OPEC meet

[HONG KONG] Asian stocks were mixed in lacklustre trade Thursday, while oil prices extended their losses ahead of a pivotal OPEC meeting expected to maintain the cartel's production levels despite a huge glut.

Tokyo stocks were down 0.29 per cent by the morning break as the yen gained ground against the dollar in subdued trade ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, which will see US markets closed Thursday and open for shortened trade on Friday.

Hong Kong gained 0.45 per cent at the opening bell, Sydney edged up 0.2 per cent and Shanghai rose 0.53 per cent. Seoul was up 0.46 per cent.

The Dow and S&P 500 edged higher to new records Wednesday following a stream of mixed US economic data.

But in Asian trade the focus shifted to oil prices, which retreated further as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting was tipped to resist pressure to rein in production and curb falling prices.

"All eyes are squarely on OPEC now. We suspect they will decide to keep to their current 30 million barrel-a-day production level," said David Lennox, resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney.

But he added: "They could make some token, insignificant cuts in production... OPEC has been inclined to surprises before." US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for January delivery fell 55 cents to US$73.14 while Brent crude for January was down 47 cents to US$77.28 in mid-morning trade.

WTI fell 40 cents in New York late Wednesday to its lowest closing point since September 2010. Brent eased 58 cents in London.

The 12-nation talks later Thursday in Vienna will be one of OPEC's toughest and most significant meetings in recent years, with members urged to act after oil prices sank 30 per cent since June.

OPEC's poorer members, led by Venezuela and Ecuador, have called publicly for a cut in output, but the Gulf members led by kingpin Saudi Arabia are opposed unless they are guaranteed market share in the highly competitive arena.

Traders have been digesting a plethora of statements from petroleum ministers ahead of the meeting.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi was quoted as saying he expects the oil market to "stabilise itself eventually", a remark Dow Jones Newswires said suggested he did not see the need for major cuts.

Iran's oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said his position was similar to Naimi's, even as he expressed concerns about a glut.

OPEC is currently pumping closer to 31 million barrels a day, or around 43 percent of global production, according to analysts.

On currency markets, the dollar was at 117.65 yen early Thursday, compared with 117.72 yen in New York Wednesday afternoon.

The euro bought US$1.2505 and 147.13 yen against US$1.2506 and 147.22 yen in US trade.

Gold was at 1,196.60 an ounce, compared with US$1,195.70 late Wednesday.