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Asian shares mixed after upbeat Yellen's testimony

Asian markets were mixed on Friday after Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen provided an upbeat view of the US economy and hinted the bank could ease up on its stimulus taper if the growth outlook weakens.

HONG KONG: Asian markets were mixed on Friday after Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen provided an upbeat view of the US economy and hinted the bank could ease up on its stimulus taper if the growth outlook weakens.

The comments provided the platform for a record close on Wall Street, while forex traders sold the dollar on the possibility that the bank's bond-buying could continue for longer.

Tokyo lost 0.55 percent, or 82.04 points, to end at 14,841.07 owing to the stronger yen, while Sydney was off 0.12 percent, or 6.6 points, at 5,404.8. Seoul was flat, nudging up 1.56 points to 1,979.99.

Hong Kong closed flat, edging up 8.78 points, to 22,836.96 while Shanghai rose 0.44 percent, or 8.95 points, to 2,056.30.

Taipei was closed for a public holiday.

Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee that central bank policymakers thought severe weather across much of the country was to blame for a disappointing run of economic data over the past two months, including on jobs, industrial output and consumption.

However, she said they would be keeping a close eye on the economy to see if the weak figures continue, which could lead to a slower pace of cuts to the stimulus programme.

Each of the Fed's past two meetings have seen it cut its bond purchases by $10 billion a month, to a current $65 billion.

"What we need to do and will be doing in the weeks ahead is to try to get a firmer handle on exactly how much of that set of soft data can be explained by weather and what portion, if any, is due to softer outlook," said Yellen, who as vice chair was a cheerleader for the scheme.

Analysts said her hint that the taper could be flexible, and her stronger statement that unemployment remains a big problem, suggests less of a determination to push ahead with policy tightening than was evident a few months ago.

"The jury is still out on whether the cold weather is to blame... but (stock) markets' interpretation of Yellen's comments was positive," said SMBC Nikko Securities general manager of equities Hiroichi Nishi.

On Wall Street the S&P 500 climbed 0.49 percent to a new record while the Dow rose 0.46 percent. The Nasdaq ended 0.63 percent higher, at its best level since the dot-com crash of 2000.

Yellen's comments also put pressure on the dollar, as a continuation of the Fed's money printing would mean more cash in financial markets.

In Tokyo the greenback sank to 101.72 yen, compared with 102.15 yen in New York Thursday.

The euro bought 139.47 yen and $1.3712 against 140.05 yen and $1.3710.

In Japan official data showed consumer inflation saw a year-on-year rise for the eighth straight month in January -- largely on higher energy bills -- while factory output rose 4.0 percent on-month.

Oil prices fell. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for April delivery, eased 44 cents to $101.96 in afternoon trade, while Brent North Sea crude for April slid 19 cents to $108.77.

Gold fetched $1,329.05 an ounce at 1050 GMT, compared with $1,324.17 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Mumbai rose 0.63 percent, or 133.13 points, to end at 21,120.12 points.

Jaiprakash Power Ventures gained 12.26 percent or 1.81 rupees to 16.57 rupees per share and Piramal Enterprises rose 7.26 percent, or 37.55 rupees, to 555.00 rupees a share.

-- Bangkok added 0.55 percent, or 7.28 points, to 1,325.33.

Siam Cement gained 2.38 percent to 430 baht, while oil company PTT rose 2.09 percent to 293 baht.

-- Kuala Lumpur closed up 0.22 percent, or 4.0 points, at 1,835.66.

Budget carrier AirAsia rose 2.8 percent to 2.55 ringgit, while Telekom Malaysia added 1.4 percent to 5.67. Hong Leong Capital lost 2.3 percent to 9.36 ringgit.

-- Singapore closed up 0.45 percent, or 14.04 points, at 3,110.78.

Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation eased 0.21 percent to Sg$9.56, while vehicle distributor Jardine Cycle and Carriage rose 3.02 percent to Sg$39.24.

-- Jakarta ended up 1.12 percent, or 51.28 points, at 4,620.22.

Auto company Astra International gained 3.73 percent to 6,950 rupiah, while palm oil firm Wilmar Cahaya Indonesia fell 3.01 percent to 1,290 rupiah.

-- Manila closed 1.11 percent higher, adding 70.20 points, to 6,424.99.

JG Summit gained 1.63 percent to 46.90 pesos while Ayala Land rose 4.45 percent to 30.50 pesos.

-- Wellington rose 0.52 percent, or 25.70 points, to 4,990.04.

Air New Zealand was up 0.6 percent at NZ$1.775 and Metlifecare fell 0.2 percent to NZ$4.14, while Fletcher Building slipped 0.53 percent to NZ$9.42.

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