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Asia stocks higher; Nikkei ends at 4-1/2-year high on easing hopes

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Shutterstock photo - Asian stock markets were broadly higher during late Asian trade on Tuesday, with Japan's Nikkei closing at the highest level since October 2008 amid ongoing expectations for aggressive monetary easing from the Bank of Japan.

During late Asian trade, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 0.4%, Australia's ASX/200 Index ended up 1.3%, while Japan's Nikkei 225 Index added 0.3%.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei rose to a 53-month closing high on hopes for further monetary easing under a new central bank chief.

Index heavyweight Fast Retailing saw shares 5.5% after reporting a 9.6% increase in sales at its Uniqlo casual clothing chain in February.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the benchmark ASX/200 Index ended just shy of a last week's four-and-a-half-year high, after the Reserve Bank of Australia kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low in March, but kept the door open for future cuts.

In its accompanying rate statement, RBA Governor Glenn Stevens said, "The Board's view is that with inflation likely to be consistent with the target, and with growth likely to be a little below trend over the coming year, an accommodative stance of monetary policy is appropriate."

Elsewhere, in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng tracked shares in mainland China higher as the National People's Congress began its annual session.

Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao kicked off the annual session of the NPC by announcing an economic growth target of 7.5% for 2013, in line with expectations.

Looking ahead, European stock market futures pointed to a steady open, as concerns over political instability in Italy and caution ahead of the upcoming European Central Bank policy meeting weighed.

The EURO STOXX 50 futures pointed to a modest gain of 0.15%, France's CAC 40 futures added 0.15%, London's FTSE 100 futures eased up 0.1%, while Germany's DAX futures pointed to a gain of 0.3% at the open.

The euro zone was to release revised data on service sector activity and official data on retail sales later Tuesday.

In the U.S., the Institute of Supply Management was to release a report on service sector activity. - offers an extensive set of professional tools for the Forex, Commodities, Futures and the Stock Market including real-time data streaming, a comprehensive economic calendar, as well as financial news and technical & fundamental analysis by in-house experts.

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