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Asian shares mixed, oil rises as Ukraine fears weigh

Asian stocks closed mixed to higher on Monday, despite fears the Ukraine crisis could intensify, as Chinese markets ended sharply up on hopes for market reforms.

HONG KONG: Asian stocks closed mixed to higher on Monday, despite fears the Ukraine crisis could intensify, as Chinese markets ended sharply up on hopes for market reforms.

Despite a positive lead from Wall Street's Friday close, trading started on a downbeat note after pro-Russian rebels late on Sunday claimed that voters in eastern Ukraine had massively voted for independence.

Kiev and the West dismissed the disputed referendum as an illegal "farce".

Oil rose above US$100 a barrel as investors fretted that any escalation of the tensions leading to conflict could disrupt supplies and send prices rocketing.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei index lost 0.35 per cent, or 50.07 points, to close at 14,149.52 as investors awaited the release of key Japanese and US data later in the week, including US retail sales and housing starts.

"This will be a week when investors will assess the US economic outlook after the impact of the polar vortex (cold weather) has rounded off," SMBC Nikko Securities said in a note to clients.

Seoul closed 0.43 per cent higher, gaining 8.39 points to 1,964.94, while Sydney eased 0.23 per cent, or 12.44 points, to 5,448.4 before the release of the national budget on Tuesday.

Stocks in Hong Kong and mainland China ended sharply higher after the Beijing government outlined moves to develop the country's capital markets.

Hong Kong leapt 1.82 per cent, or 398.62 points, to end at 22,261.61.

Shanghai jumped 2.07 per cent or 41.73 points to 2,052.87 while the Shenzhen Composite Index, which tracks stocks on China's second exchange, jumped 2.25 per cent, or 22.85 points, to 1,040.54.

China's State Council, or cabinet, late Friday issued guidelines to promote development of the stock, bond and futures markets, including expanding the scale of foreign investment in the capital markets.

"The guidelines boosted investor confidence," Haitong Securities analyst Zhang Qi told AFP. But he said gains could be capped by worries over upcoming initial public offerings.

In other markets, Manila lost 0.52 per cent, or 35.92 points, to 6,811.34, Bangkok lost 0.16 per cent or 2.23 points to close at 1,375.14 and Taipei fell 0.91 per cent, or 81.08 points, to 8,808.61.

Jakarta closed 0.30 per cent higher, or 14.86 points, to close at 4,912.998, Mumbai rose 2.42 per cent, or 556.77 points, to 23,551.00, while Kuala Lumpur slid 0.03 per cent, or 0.64 points to finish at 1,866.08.

Singapore slipped 0.91 per cent, or 29.70 points, to finish at 3,222.43.

US stocks touched a fresh closing high on Friday, with investors shrugging off mixed earnings reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 32.37 points (0.20 per cent) to 16,583.34, 2.5 points above the previous high on April 30.

The broad-based S&P 500 added 2.85 (0.15 per cent) to 1,878.48, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index gained 20.37 points (0.50 per cent) to 4,071.88.

But oil prices rose steeply Monday on Ukraine jitters.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for June delivery, was up 31 cents at US$100.30, while Brent North Sea crude for June gained 48 cents to US$108.37 per barrel.

The dollar was almost flat in Asian trade on Monday, holding on to last week's gains against the euro after Mario Draghi said the European Central Bank was ready to ease monetary policy soon.

The greenback fetched 101.86 yen in afternoon trade in Tokyo, up slightly from 101.83 yen in New York on Friday.

The euro was quoted at US$1.3769 and 140.30 yen, against US$1.3758 and 140.10 yen.

Gold fetched US$1,294.30 an ounce at 1055 GMT compared with US$1,289.14 late Friday.

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