Interest rate concerns were back on the region's agenda on Wednesday as the Thai and Australian central banks raised borrowing costs, although Tokyo managed to record a fifth successive day of gains as broking stocks attracted demand.

The Nikkei 225 Average ended 0.3 per cent firmer at a fresh eight-month high of 11,813.71, although that was well off the day's best. The broader Topix index rose 0.5 per cent to 1,185.97.

Traders said the heavy volume of 2bn shares changing hands was a combination of Japanese institutions continuing to unwind their shareholdings and further buying from foreign institutions.

Investors bought brokerage stocks on anticipation the sector would benefit from the rising stock market, improved trading volumes and further domestic mergers and acquisitions.

Nomura Holdings, Japan‘s largest brokerage was 1.6 per cent stronger at Y1,456, Daiwa Securities rose 1.4 per cent to Y718, Mizuho Investors Securities added 3.6 per cent to Y231 and Nikko Cordial firmed 2.7 per cent to Y530.

Carmakers were also higher after US data showed Japanese producers gaining market share at the expense of domestic manufacturers. Toyota added 1 per cent to Y4,080, Honda rose 1.4 per cent to Y5,640 and Nissan was 1.4 per cent better off, at Y1,124.

Shipping and metal and mining-related stocks took a breather after recent gains. Nippon Mining was down 2.9 per cent to Y611, steel producer JFE lost 2.4 per cent to Y3,200 and Sumitomo Metal Mining was down 1.7 per cent at Y792. Shipping stock Kawasaki Kisen lost 1.9 per cent to Y778.

Daiei added 2 per cent to Y249 after reports that trading house Marubeni and domestic venture capital group Advantage Partners would inject more than Y60bn into the ailing retailer by buying new shares issued by the company in May. Marubeni fell 0.9 per cent to Y348.

Japan Tobacco added 4.3 per cent to Y1.21m after US broker JP Morgan added the stock to its Japan Analysts' Focus list with a target price of Y1.4m. It said the shares remained undervalued and forecast higher earnings from cost savings and improving market trends.

Yoshimoto Kogyo, the media group, leapt 16 per cent to Y1,453 as it received strong backing from broker UBS. The broker initiated coverage with a “buy” rating, encouraged by fast growth at its fandango web portal and Rojam, its Hong Kong listed music business.

Sumitomo Titanium, the world‘s largest maker of metallic titanium, climbed 5.7 per cent to a record Y9,880 as it marked its entry to the stock exchange‘s first section by rainsingits annual dividend forecast by 50 per cent to Y45.

Seikagaku, the pharmaceutical group, jumped 12.7 per cent to Y1,950, its highest level for nearly 10 years. It also celebrated its promotion to Tokyo‘s main index on Tuesday by raising its annual dividend forecast by 50 per cent, to Y30.

Bangkok fell back after the central bank raised interest rates to a three-year high and warned that inflation could be gathering pace because of high fuel prices.

The SET index shed 2.4 per cent to 720.92, its lowest close for nearly a month.

The rate rise sent the banking sector tumbling, with Bangkok Bank falling 3.6 per cent to Bt108 and Krung Thai Bank 2 per cent to Bt9.65.

Energy group PTT continued to retreat following its strong advance in the first two months of the year. The stock fell 3.8 per cent to Bt202. Thai Oil, the refiner, fell 6.8 per cent to Bt62.

Sydney, however, ended at a record high as investors shrugged off a widely-expected rise in Australian rates. News that the economy had expanded by just 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of the year had similarly little impact.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.2 per cent firmer at 4,191.5.

CSL, the world's biggest human plasma products maker, rose 3.9 per cent to A$34.41 after the American Red Cross announced it would stop selling plasma products.

Just Group, the clothing company, added 5.6 per cent to A$2.81 after reporting strong first-half profits.

Hong Kong continued to suffer in the wake of banking group HSBC's disappointing results, and the Hang Seng index closed 1.5 per cent lower at 13,850.78.

HSBC, which accounts for about a third of the index's weighting, fell another 1.5 per cent to HK$128.50, after shedding more than 2 per cent on Tuesday.

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