AUSTRALIAN stocks closed at their highest in 17 months yesterday, bolstered by strong Japanese and US markets. ''The number one focus has been Japan,'' a broker at BOS Stockbroking said. ''The Nikkei has broken through the 20,000 barrier and just romped on.'' Arbitrage trading kept volumes up despite the Melbourne exchange being closed for a holiday, he added. The All Ordinaries Index closed up 23 points at 1,688.7. It was the highest close since 1,693.4 on November 11, 1991. ''Subject to any real fall-out from overseas, I think we will sail through 1,700 this week,'' the BOS broker said. National turnover was 136 million shares worth A$255 million with rises beating falls by about two to one. TOKYO STOCKS ended briskly higher and the Nikkei Average soared 858.15 points or 4.32 per cent to 20,740.29. Broad-based buying was triggered after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) proposed a stimulus package totalling 13.2 trillion yen. The Nikkei last closed above 20,000 on March 25, 1992. An estimated 750 million shares were traded. The market opened higher after Monday's slight dip and continued rising after news of the stimulus package. Brokers also favoured expectations that public pension and insurance funds will step up investment in stocks in the coming three months. Public funds were seen placing orders at high levels yesterday. TAIPEI STOCKS closed lower for the fifth day in very thin turnover as buyers stayed on the sidelines. The Weighted Index spent most of the session moderately lower and a late wave of selling pushed it down to close 84.61 points or 1.8 per cent lower at 4,597.66. Turnover was NT$34.9 billion against Monday's $32.7 billion. Tight money market liquidity and news that drought in the south had forced a naphtha cracker and some petrochemical firms to cut or suspend output hurt sentiment. Many brokers expected the market to continue testing its lows this month. SEOUL STOCKS fell slightly for the first time in three sessions in what brokers described as a technical downward correction after recent sharp gains. But late institutional buying by securities houses and provincial banks prevented the market from falling further. ''The market needs to broaden from its recent bull run,'' said Mr Lee Won-kyu of Tongyang Securities. ''Blue-chip manufacturing shares are expected to face selling tomorrow but it will be short-lived.'' The Composite Stock Index stood 0.44 points lower on 720.52 at the close, comfortably off a day's low of 714.37. WELLINGTON SHARES, which were led by modest gains in a handful of leading and mid-sized stocks, ended the session firmer on moderate volume. Mr Richard Burton of Cavill White Securities said a stronger performance on Wall Street and slightly firmer domestic bond prices had helped. ''Also the market has taken a while to digest the Telecom placement,'' he said in reference to a parcel of 108.9 million shares in mid-March. ''I think the market has been consolidating around 1,500, which is a good, sensible move,'' Mr Burton said. MANILA PRICES eased as profit-takers swarmed the market, but brokers say the slight decline that broke a six-day advance is healthy. ''Most investors went on profit-taking today,'' said Mr Joseph Roxas of R. Coyiuto Securities. ''This is good because it means within the next few weeks the Manila index will be able to break its high of 1,580 points.'' The Manila Composite Index weakened by 0.54 to 1,564.35 from Monday's close of 1,564.89. The Makati Index inched up by 5.95 to close at 1,603.4. JAKARTA STOCKS closed lower in dull trade, with one broker saying: ''The market was featureless with majorvolume coming from internal crossings.'' ''Local investors are still sidelined and the market as a whole is a bit weak,'' another broker said. The Jakarta Composite Index slipped to 307.23 from Monday's 308.44. KUALA LUMPUR PRICES closed mixed to steady with widespread profit-taking well absorbed by late buying. ''There was profit-taking throughout the day, mostly by contra traders ahead of settlement of last week's purchases,'' said a broker. ''But buying support was strong, especially in the last half hour.'' The KLSE Composite Index fell 1.55 points to 655.58, rebounding from an intra-day low of 653.6. Activity was again centred on speculative counters while blue chips were thinly traded. SINGAPORE PRICES closed lower on extended profit-taking evident after last week's record-breaking rallies. ''There is profit-taking but it is well-absorbed. We need to pause for a while before we can rise further,'' a senior trader said, adding that she expected more profit-taking later this week. Another broker said there was some light buying of Singapore shares but only selectively. The 30-share Straits Times Industrial Index fell 14.33 points to 1,693.51. The Bangkok market was closed yesterday. The Chinese share prices are provided by Telerate. All other prices are provided by Reuter.