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Asian Markets End  Week Mixed - 2003-12-12

Markets in Asia ended the week mixed, with shares listed on Hong Kong stock market soaring on the basis of enthusiasm for mainland Chinese firms.

In Hong Kong, great attention is being paid to the initial public offering of China Life Insurance Company, a mainland insurance giant. The offering is expected to raise more than $3 billion, making it the world's largest IPO this year.

Analysts say investors are trying to gain exposure to China's strong economic growth by investing in Chinese companies listed on the Hong Kong stock market.

The Hang Seng index has risen by more than 23 percentage points since hitting a low of 8,331 during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome earlier this year.

On Friday, the Hang Seng ended the day at 12,594, its highest closing level in 29 months.

Economist Andy Xie of Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong says the current rally is driven by unrealistic expectations of China's current economic boom.

"We periodically experience excessive optimism, usually when China's economy is doing well," he said. "We are in a period of euphoria. I think we are in the middle of a bubble, we had one in 2000, we had one in 1997 and so it appears every three years we have one."

Tokyo's main stock exchange index, the Nikkei 225, lost almost two percent for the week, but on Friday the index rose by almost one percent, to close at 10,169.

Traders say shares were buoyed by the quarterly Tankan survey, which showed a sharp improvement in business confidence.

Korea's Kospi index also rallied on Friday, finishing the week up by more than two percent at 806. Investors say Thursday's rally on Wall Street helped boost the optimism of Korean exporters. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above the psychologically important 10,000 point level for the first time since May 2002.

Shares listed on Taiwan's stock exchange did not fare as well. Traders said profit taking late in the day erased early gains. For the week, the Taiex index shed 48 points to close Friday at 5,858.