Asian stock markets are mostly subdued on Friday with investors in most of the markets staying away on the sidelines ahead of the Christmas weekend. The overnight flat close on Wall Street and a lack of triggers from the Asian region are also contributing to the subdued trend.

The Australian stock market is trading weak with investors pressing sales in mining, industrial and property trusts stocks. Stocks from healthcare, information technology and consumer staples sectors are edging higher, while financial stocks are trading mixed.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index is down 22 points or 0.5% at 4,777. The broader All Ordinaries index is trading at 4,868, down 20.2 points or 0.4% from its previous close.

Among miners, BHP Billiton is down 0.6%, Rio Tinto is trading lower by about 1% and Newcrest Mining is down with a loss of 1.2%, while Fortescue Metals is trading flat after an initial upmove.

Shares of Whitehaven Coal Ltd are down nearly 5% following the company hinting at an earnings downgrade, after it was forced to buy coal as wet weather struck its own operations. Although production in the first-half will be up about 10% on last year, the company said it will fall about 24% or 700,000 tonnes, below budget.

In the energy space, Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search are up 0.6% and 0.7% respectively, while Origin Energy and Santos are trading weak.

Sundance Energy Ltd shares are up more than 4% after the company struck an agreement with U.S. oil services giant Halliburton and Macquarie Group Ltd to hasten drilling work at its Niobara project in the United States. According to the agreement, Halliburton and Macquarie will participate in up to 40% of the Sundance acreage at its Silo and Bull Canyon prospects in the states of Wyoming and Colorado.

Sundance will receive a non-refundable participation payment of A$A2.39 million in cash under the deal. Halliburton and Macquarie will also pay up to A$3.89 million in development costs.

Among bank stocks, ANZ Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac are trading weak, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia is in positive territory with a modest gain. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland are down marginally, while Macquarie Group is down 0.6%.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar opened higher amid a firm trend in commodity prices. In early trades, the Aussie was quoting at US$1.0044, up from Thursday's close of US$1.0029. The Australian dollar is currently trading at 1.0026 to the U.S. dollar.

The Japanese stock market is trading notably lower with the overnight flat close on Wall Street and a stronger yen prompting investors to indulge in some selling across various sectors.

Steel, non-ferrous metals, financial, warehousing, precision instruments and marine transport stocks are mostly down in negative territory. Mining, oil and pharmaceuticals stocks are trading mixed.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index was down 73.52 points or 0.71% at 10,272.96, at the end of the morning session.

Taiheiyo Cement, Mitsui OSK Lines, Nippon Express, Mitsui Chemicals, Taisei Corp, Shinsei Bank and Mitsubishi Paper are trading lower by 2%-3%.

Advantest Corp. has presented a revised proposal to acquire ordinary shares of Verigy Ltd. for 15 dollars apiece, raising its price by 2.85 dollars a share from a previous offer. Shares of Advantest Corp. are currently down by almost 2%.

Casio Computer, Nisshin Steel, Sumitomo Mitsui, Daiwa Securities, Mazda Motor, Kobe Steel, Nippon Sheet Glass, Yokogawa Electric, Mizuho Securities, Credit Saison and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial are also trading notably lower.

Inpex Corp., Toshiba Corp., Mizuho Trust & Banking, All Nippon Airways, Mitsubishi Estate, Sumco Corp., East Japan Railway and Mitsubishi Motor are among the prominent gainers in the Nikkei index.

Nippon Electric Glass is up nearly 2.5% following an announcement from the company that its net income for the nine months ending December 31 will be 58 billion yen, as against an earlier estimate of 55 billion-61 billion yen.

Ministop Co. shares are up with modest gains after the company raised its full-year net income forecast by 38% to 3.3 billion yen.

Sanyo Elecric Co. shares are down by over 5%. The company announced that it will invest 15 billion yen to raise annual production capacity of lithium iron batteries by 150%.

In economic news, the cabinet is expected to endorse a fiscal 2011 budget bill worth about 92.41 trillion yen at an extraordinary meeting later in the day. The budget is a record and 110 billion yen higher than the initial budget for fiscal 2010. The primary balance, or the government's net borrowing or lending excluding payments on the debt, is expected to be 22.7 trillion yen in the red. The fiscal deficit is expected to fall only by 900 billion yen next fiscal year despite an estimated tax revenue increase of 3.5 trillion yen from fiscal 2010.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded around the 83 yen-level in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 83.06 to the U.S. dollar.

The South Korean market is also trading weak. Despite an early upmove following a flat start, the benchmark KOSPI index declined to around 2,031 and is currently trading at 2,035, down 3.1 points or 0.16% from its previous close.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Shanghai, Malaysia and Taiwan are trading weak, while Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore are up marginally. Markets across the region ended on a mixed note on Thursday.

On Wall Street, stocks closed mostly lower on Wall Street on Thursday amid thin volumes. The major averages all saw choppy trade late in the day, ending on a mixed note. The S&P 500 slid by 2.1 points or 0.2% to 1,256.8 and the Nasdaq eased by 5.9 points or 0.2% to 2,665.6, while the Dow ended up 14 points or 0.1% at 11,573.5.

Major European markets too ended mixed on Thursday. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index gained 0.2%, while the German DAX index and the French CAC 40 index ended lower by 0.1% and 0.2% respectively.

Crude oil prices sailed past US$91 a barrel on Thursday, amid falling stockpiles. Light, sweet crude for February delivery ended up US$1.03 at US$91.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest price since October 7, 2008.


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