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Asia stocks up in quiet New Year trade

[HONG KONG] Asian markets started 2015 on an upswing, mostly rising in limited trading on Friday, with many regional bourses still closed for public holidays.

Hong Kong was up 0.6 per cent, adding 141.22 points to 23,746.26. Seoul was flat, edging up 1.06 points to 1,916.65, while Sydney was up 0.3 per cent, or 16.5 points, at 5,427.5. Singapore was little changed, slipping 0.91 points to 3,364.24.

Markets in mainland China, Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand were closed for holidays.

Volumes were low as traders began returning after the New Year break, with less than half the average quantity of shares changing hands in Sydney, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Singapore, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"Volumes are abysmal and we're not taking much notice of today's price action," Michael McCarthy, Sydney-based chief market strategist at CMC Markets, told Bloomberg. "We are expecting a volatile ride to play out this year."

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On forex markets, the US dollar extended gains ahead of the release of American factory data and following a steady stream of good news from the world's biggest economy. The US dollar bought 120.37 yen, compared to 119.44 yen in final 2014 trading on Wednesday.

The euro meanwhile slipped amid growing expectations that the European Central Bank, which meets on Jan 22, will start buying sovereign bonds. The single currency bought US$1.2058 compared to US$1.2160 in pre-holiday trade.

Wall Street toasted a banner year in 2014, with US equity markets finishing near all-time highs. The broad-based S&P 500 gained 210.54 points (11.39 per cent) over the year to 2,058.90, easily outpacing forecasts that the index would gain only about 6 per cent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,246.41 (7.52 per cent) to 17,823.07, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 559.46 (13.40 per cent) to 4,736.05.

Oil prices were up on Friday, with US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rising 80 US cents to US$54.07 and Brent crude for February gaining 71 US cents to US$58.04 in mid-morning trade.

"The gains in Asian trading are likely because of the positive US crude stockpiles data released on Wednesday," Daniel Ang, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore, told AFP.

US crude reserves fell by 1.8 million barrels in the week to Dec 26, the US Energy Information Administration said in its last petroleum report for 2014 released on Wednesday, boosting prices that lost nearly half their value in the second half of the year.

Gold was at US$1,184.51 an ounce, compared with US$1,199.00 in end-of-year trading on Wednesday.


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