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Written by: Staff
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SINGAPORE, Apr 17 (Reuters) Gold jumped to its highest level in 25 years and oil prices rose to within a dollar of its record on Monday, as investors fretted about global inflationary pressures.

That pushed most Asian share markets lower, led by Japanese banks such as Mizuho Financial, in a week when top U.S.

financial and technology companies report earnings.

Fund managers and other investors shifted money into gold, often considered a hedge against inflation, lifting it to a 25-year high of $605.40 an ounce. Dealers cited tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions and high oil prices as catalysts for the buying.

Crude oil also gained, briefly hitting $70 a barrel and holding to within a dollar of the all-time high of $70.85 set on Aug. 30. Oil last traded at $69.95, up 63 cents.

''The drama over Iran's face-off with the West, the rise of insurgency in Nigeria and gasoline supply concerns in the U.S.

ahead of the driving season are keeping a high floor under oil,'' said Victor Shum at consultancy Purvin&Gertz in Singapore.

Other market factors this week include U.S. inflation data and Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States.

FINANCIAL STOCKS STUMBLE In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei average ended morning trade down 0.7 percent, with investors eyeing earnings prospects for companies such as Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. Shares of Japan's third-biggest shipping firm fell 2.4 percent after a report of a poor earnings outlook.

The financial sector IFINS.was the worst performer among the Tokyo bourse's 33 industries, with Aiful Corp. extending steep losses into a second session.

Japanese financial regulators ordered on Friday Aiful, the country's biggest consumer lending firm, to suspend business at all of its 1,700 outlets for three days as punishment for coercive loan collection methods.

MSCI's index of non-Japan Asian shares rose 0.5 percent.

South Korea's main index fell 0.3 percent after hitting an all-time high of 1,436.65, helped briefly by gains in Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. shares on optimism about a recovery in earnings by the second half and reaction to the company's recently announced share buyback plan.

But LG Electronics Inc. fell 1.8 percent ahead of its quarterly results on Wednesday.

Singapore's index edged down 0.2 percent.

Bucking the downward trend, Taiwan's benchmark index gained 0.2 percent after hitting a new 25-month high. Chinese President Hu Jintao sparked hopes of improved economic ties by calling for talks between China and Taiwan as soon as possible.

Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand were closed for a holiday and will reopen on Tuesday.

U.S. DOLLAR LOWER The U.S. dollar fell in thin trade, with dealers citing an article in the Wall Street Journal suggesting Federal Reserve officials are not convinced they need to keep raising interest rates beyond an expected move in May.

The Fed has lifted rates 15 straight times to 4.75 percent and is widely expected to bump rates up to 5 percent at its next policy meeting in May.

The dollar slipped to near 118.10 yen from around 118.70 in Tokyo trade on Friday, while the euro rose to around $1.1286 from near $1.2110.

At 0206 GMT, gold was trading at $604.50/605.30, compared with Friday's late Asia level of around $599.30.

Both London and New York markets were closed for Easter holidays on Friday.

Later this week, investors get a snapshot of U.S. inflation in March, with the U.S. Producer Price Index due on Tuesday and the U.S. Consumer Price Index on Wednesday.

Tech bellwethers Intel Corp. and Apple Computer Inc., plus Internet companies Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc., will report quarterly results this week.

Financial firms including Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase&Co., Bank of America Corp. and Merrill Lynch&Co. are also due to report.

REUTERS CS HS0908

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