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Asian shares mixed, Qantas hit by huge net loss

Asian markets mostly rose on Thursday in cagey trade following a positive close on Wall Street and before the congressional testimony of US Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen later in the day.

HONG KONG: Asian markets mostly rose on Thursday in cagey trade following a positive close on Wall Street and before the congressional testimony of US Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen later in the day.

Shanghai added 0.30 per cent, or 6.10 points, to close at 2,047.35 and Hong Kong rallied 1.74 per cent, or 390.74 points, to 22,828.18. Seoul finished 0.39 per cent higher, gaining 7.66 points to 1,978.43.

Tokyo slipped 0.32 per cent, or 47.86 points, to 14,923.11 and Sydney fell 0.47 per cent, or 25.6 points, to 5,411.4.

Mumbai was closed for a public holiday.

In Sydney, struggling Qantas slumped nine per cent on Thursday after it said it will axe 5,000 jobs, freeze pay, defer aircraft deliveries and suspend growth at Asian offshoot Jetstar while warning of more pain to come.

The airline, battling record fuel costs and fierce competition from subsidised rivals, posted an interim net loss of A$235 million (US$210 million) in the six months to December 31.

With few catalysts to drive business, investors are waiting to find out Yellen's views on the US economy when she sits before the Senate Banking Committee later Thursday.

She is unlikely to deviate from her comments to the House of Representatives' committee two weeks ago but investors will be interested to hear whether the bank expects the severe weather that paralysed parts of the country to have affected growth prospects.

A recent spate of downbeat data out of the United States over the past two months, including jobs growth, have been blamed on the cold snap.

Yellen's comments could give an idea of her plans for the Fed's stimulus programme, which has been reduced in each of the bank's past two policy meetings.

"Her comments on the current situation of the US economy, tapering (of its stimulus) and forward guidance (on interest rates) will be closely watched," Barclays currency analyst Shinichiro Kadota said in a note to clients.

Wednesday saw the release of data showing a healthy 2.2 per cent jump in US new home sales in January, despite the weather.

On Wall Street, the Dow rose 0.12 per cent, the S&P 500 was flat and the Nasdaq gained 0.10 per cent.

In currency trade, the dollar was at 102.34 yen compared with 102.38 yen in New York, while the euro fetched 140.00 yen and $1.3674 against 140.11 yen and $1.3683.

Oil prices fell. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for April delivery, was down 29 cents at $102.30, while Brent North Sea crude for April fell 21 cents to $109.31.

Gold fetched $1,324.17 an ounce at 0810 GMT, compared to $1,340.05 late Wednesday.

In other markets:

Taipei rose 0.45 per cent, or 38.72 points, to 8,639.58. Smartphone maker HTC fell 1.81 per cent to NT$136.0 while Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. climbed 0.47 per cent to NT$108.0.

Wellington fell 0.18 per cent, or 8.86 points, to 4,964.34. Air New Zealand was up 0.86 per cent at NZ$1.765 and Fletcher Building slipped 2.07 per cent to NZ$9.47.

Manila closed 0.51 per cent higher, adding 32.19 points to 6,354.79. Universal Robina gained 2.19 per cent to 140 pesos while Megaworld Corp rose 1.22 per cent to 4.15 pesos.

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