Nikkei ends week with new 15-year high

Asian equity markets were mixed on Friday, following an uninspiring lead from Wall Street, but Japanese stocks managed to overlook a mixed bag of economic data to settle at a new 15-year high.

Overnight, U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed, with stocks near recent highs, as concerns about oil prices and a worse-than-expected initial jobless claims figure weighed on investor sentiment. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished flat, while the S&P 500 closed down 0.2 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite outperformed to settle 0.4 percent higher.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Nikkei flat

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index finished a tick above the flatline, throwing away earlier gains as the dollar-yen pulled back, but held on to a fresh 15-year high. The key stock index has finished at multi-year highs five times over the past six sessions.

Among the raft of data released before market open, the closely-watched consumer inflation eased for a sixth straight month in January, pushing the Bank of Japan further from its 2 percent target. Stripping out the effects of a sale tax hike, the nationwide consumer price index (CPI) rose a less-than-expected 0.2 percent, down from 0.5 percent in December.

Exporter stocks finished mixed; Automakers such as Honda, Suzuki Motor and Toyota Motor made losses between 0.5 to 1.2 percent, while Sony and Panasonic held on to gains of over 2 percent each.

Yamaha Motor advanced 2 percent on news that it aims to start making and selling two-seater cars in Europe.

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Mainland indices mixed

China's Shanghai Composite index closed up 0.4 percent to a one-month high, as markets digested news that five Chinese city and rural commercial banks have been approved by the central bank to cut their reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by an extra 50 basis points late Wednesday. However, a broadly dismal picture in the financial sector capped the bourse's advances.

Bank of China slid 0.7 percent, while Bank of Communications and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China shed 0.5 and 0.2 percent each. Founder Securities and Citic Securities lost over 1 percent each.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index closed down 0.3 percent. Major jewellery retailer Chow Tai Fook plunged over 5 percent after reporting weaker same-store sales during the recent Lunar New Year holiday. Chinese carmaker BYD lost nearly 3 percent after it posted a 21 percent drop in its 2014 preliminary full-year net profit late Thursday.

Focus was also on shares of Standard Chartered, which rallied 2.4 percent, after news of a leadership shake-up.

ASX adds 0.3%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index pared losses as its banking and mining majors turned positive. Commonwealth Bank of Australia led gains among the big four lenders, up nearly 2 percent, while Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton traded 1.1 and 0.3 percent higher, respectively.

Energy producers recouped losses as oil prices traded higher in early Asian trade; Santos and Oil Search trimmed losses to nearly one-fifth of a percent, while Woodside Petroleum headed up 0.8 percent.

The earnings season enters its final day in Sydney today and attention is on index heavyweight Woolworths. The grocer plunged nearly 10 percent after announcing a change in senior leadership and warning that full-year earnings will come at the bottom end of consensus estimates. Wine firm Treasury Wine Estates closed flat after a day of volatile trading, following news that it returned back to profit in the first half.

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Kospi down 0.4%

South Korea's Kospi index snapped a seven-day rally on the final trading day of the week, led lower by index heavyweights. Steelmaker Posco and utility Kepco slumped nearly 3 percent, while the top two heaviest weighted stocks Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor receded 1.3 and 1.8 percent each.

Kumho Industrial rocketed 13.4 percent, adding to a 15 percent rise Thursday, as the process for the sale of a stake in the company continues.

Rest of Asia

India's Nifty index finished 1.8 percent higher ahead of tomorrow's government budget, which could see the government led by prime minister Narendra Modi roll out significant big ticket public spending and specific improvements in the ease of doing business in India.

Singapore-listed commodities trader Noble Group plummeted 8 percent after surprising markets with its first quarterly loss in three years late Wednesday.

Elsewhere, AirAsia posted its first net loss in two years amid heavy foreign-exchange losses. Shares of the Malaysian budget carrier retreated 3 percent, while the broader FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI inched up 0.1 percent to touch a four-week high.