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Asian stocks mixed, Tokyo gains on sales tax delay

[HONG KONG] Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday despite record closing highs on Wall Street, with Tokyo stocks ticking higher after the government delayed a planned sales tax hike as Japan tipped back into recession.

Hong Kong slipped 0.32 per cent, Sydney dipped 0.36 per cent and Seoul was down 0.24 per cent while Shanghai traded flat.

But Tokyo gained 0.23 per cent after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday called for early elections to seek a mandate for delaying next year's sales tax increase and his economic policies.

"Abe's actions were in line with market expectations, which had been building for several days," said Eiji Kinouchi, chief technical strategist at Daiwa Securities.

"Historically, the market tends to rise between the time elections are declared and when the vote actually occurs, and foreign investors, importantly, appear to be embracing the decision," Kinouchi told Dow Jones Newswires.

Abe's announcement came after data Monday showed the Japanese economy was in recession, hammered by a sales tax hike in April.

On Wall Street on Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.23 per cent and the S&P 500 rose 0.51 per cent to close at fresh records following solid economic data from Germany and the United States.

Investment sentiment in the eurozone's biggest economy rebounded in November, a survey showed Tuesday.

After hitting a 22-month low in October, the widely watched investor confidence index calculated by the ZEW economic institute was back in positive territory in November, jumping to 11.5 points from minus 3.6 points the previous month.

The European single currency raced higher on the upbeat data, trading at US$1.2523 and 146.68 yen from US$1.2482 and 145.68 yen late Tuesday.

And in the United States, homebuilder confidence rose by four points to 58, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index.

The dollar rose to 117.14 yen early Wednesday from 116.83 yen in New York Tuesday afternoon and 116.57 yen in Tokyo earlier Tuesday.

Oil prices were mixed. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell 44 US cents to US$74.17 while Brent crude rose three cents to US$78.50.

Gold was at US$1,192.88 an ounce, compared with US$1,202 late Tuesday.