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Nikkei falls, most Asian stock markets shut for Lunar New Year holidays

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BANGKOK - Japan's Nikkei stock index fell Friday as the yen strengthened, but the handful of other Asian markets open during Lunar New Year holidays gained after U.S. corporate earnings continued to exceed expectations.

Financial markets are closed in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Among stock markets not observing the holiday, India's Sensex gained less than 0.1 per cent to 20,504.69 and Thailand's SET was up 0.4 per cent at 1,269.19. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added less than 0.1 per cent to 5,190 and New Zealand's benchmark gained 0.5 per cent to 5,258.40.

Japan's Nikkei 225 reversed early gains that were sparked by the government reporting increases in inflation and factory output. Inflation is a possible sign of economic recovery in Japan, which has been plagued by falling prices during two decades of stagnation.

But a rise in the yen against the U.S. dollar was negative for exporting stocks, dragging the Nikkei down 0.6 per cent to 14,914.53.

Better-than-expected U.S. earnings encouraged some investors to buy more stocks, IG strategist Stan Shamu said in a market commentary.

Facebook stock posted double digit gains because of its quarterly profit report, which boosted other technology stocks.

Shamu said about half of the companies in the S&P 500 index have reported earnings so far with most beating expectations for revenue and earnings per share.

U.S. stocks rose sharply Thursday as investors cheered the strong earnings and data that showed the U.S. economy grew at a robust annual rate of 3.2 per cent in the fourth quarter.

The S&P 500 rose 19.99 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 1,794.19. The Nasdaq composite jumped 71.69 points, or 1.8 per cent, to 4,123.13 and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 109.82 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 15,848.61.

Benchmark U.S crude for March delivery was down 32 cents at $97.91 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 87 cents to finish Thursday at $98.23, boosted by the GDP report.

In currencies, the euro slipped to $1.3549 from $1.3577 late Thursday. The dollar fell to 102.45 yen from 102.78 yen.

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