HONG KONG—South Korea’s stock market ended with a fractional gain after a choppy first trading session of 2 012, in a battle of December data: stronger-than-expected growth in exports versus a contraction in manufacturing activity.

Taiwanese shares slipped 1.7% to 6952.21, however, pressured by weak manufacturing data and concerns about unresolved debt troubles in the euro zone. India’s Sensex gained 0.4% to 15517.92.

Trading was thin, with many of the region’s markets, including in Japan, China, Australia and Singapore, closed for the New Year holiday. U.S. and U.K. stock markets were also slated to take the day off.

“We expect Korea to move from a bear to a bull market this year—the reverse of 2011,” Shaun Cochran, a market strategist at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, wrote in a note to clients. South Korea’s Kospi ended with a gain of less than 0.1% at 1826.37, after moving in both directions during the session. The benchmark lost 11% of its value in 2011.

The brokerage expects a “major bear-market low” around the second quarter of this year, before the “best buying opportunity the country has presented investors in more than three years,” Mr. Cochran said.

Leading gainers in Seoul included heavyweight Samsung Electronics, which rose 2.1%, and LG Display, which added 1.8%. Those gains helped counter a 3.5% drop in Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and a 1.1% fall in Woori Finance Holdings.

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