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ASIA MARKETS: Asia Stocks Gain, Smartphone Sales Help Japan

01/29/2013 | 08:23pm US/Eastern
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By Sarah Turner, MarketWatch

SYDNEY (MarketWatch) -- Asia stocks gained on Wednesday, as several Japanese telecom and technology companies benefitted from smartphone exposure, while South Korea and Australia also saw some buying ahead of a policy decision from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Japan's Nikkei Stock Average rose 0.9%, while South Korea's Kospi moved up a more moderate 0.4%, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.3%.

Monetary policy was on the agenda for investors, with the U.S. Federal Reserve due to wrap up a two-day policy meeting later Wednesday. Investors were on alert for any signals as to the duration of the Fed's bond-buying program.

With Spanish and U.S. gross domestic product figures also due out, "data releases ahead of the Fed FOMC rate decision today will keep markets busy, but activity will be limited, and markets will move sideways until the Fed delivers its outcome," Crédit Agricole strategist Mitul Kotecha said.

U.S. stock gains Tuesday set up a mostly positive lead for Asia, with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. (>> Pfizer Inc.) leading blue-chip gains after reporting fourth-quarter earnings that beat estimates.

Earnings outlooks gave the Japanese market an extra boost on Wednesday, as Yahoo Japan Corp. (>> Yahoo Japan Corporation) surged 18.8% after updating its fiscal-year earnings forecast to a 10%-11% gain year-on-year, amid growing online advertising revenue, including for smartphones.

Telecoms also saw earnings-related buying, with Softbank Corp. (>> Softbank Corp) up 2.8% after the Nikkei reported that the wireless carrier is expected to post a 10% gain for its April-December operating profit, helped by sales of Apple Inc.'s (>> Apple Inc.) iPhone.

Rival KDDI Corp. (>> KDDI Corp) -- which also sells the iPhone, and which already posted a 40% gain in its October-December operating profit late Monday -- saw its shares rise another 2.6% on Wednesday.

Also among the wireless carriers, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (>> NTT Docomo Inc) traded up 0.2%, even as a separate Nikkei report tipped a 9% lower nine-month operating profit for the firm.

Central Japan Railway Co. jumped 8.4% after reporting a 49% rise in nine-month net profit, while among other rail shares, Keisei Electric Railway Co. rose 1.3% and East Japan Railway Co. gained 1.5%.

On the downside in Tokyo, Komatsu Ltd. (>> Komatsu Ltd) lost 1%, and Fujifilm Holdings Corp. (FUJI) fell 1.9% after both firms cut their earnings outlooks while issuing weaker quarterly results.

In South Korean trading, Samsung Electronics Inc. (>> Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.) rose 1%, while rival chip maker SK Hynix Inc. (>> HYNIX SEMI GDS) rose 2.3% after reporting a swing to quarterly profit thanks to rising chip demand on the release of new smartphones and other devices.

Australia saw major mineral extractors advance, with Rio Tinto Ltd. (>> Rio Tinto plc) up 1.1%, and BHP Billiton Ltd. (>> Rio Tinto plc) higher by 0.9%.

The move in the mining sector offset losses for consumer-staples firms, including Coles supermarket owner Wesfarmers Ltd. [(>> WESFARMER ADR), which traded down 0.9% after reporting second-quarter sales figures.

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