Mainland markets plunge
China's key Shanghai Composite widened losses in the afternoon session to end down 6.5 percent at a near one-week low, marking its biggest one-day loss since January 19 and breaking an eight-session winning streak. The CSI 300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen tumbled 6.7 percent, while the start-up board ChiNext sank 5.4 percent.
News that more Chinese brokerages are tightening margin lending rules seem to be the main cause of concern among retail investors, experts say. According to IG market strategist Bernard Aw, Guosen Securities increased the margin requirement for 908 counters while Southwest Securities reduced the amount of margin financing that traders can receive using collateral.
Separately, the Shanghai Securities News also reported that regulators have recently urged banks to submit data regarding money flows into the stock market, according to Reuters.
Financial and property heavyweights saw steep declines; China Construction Bank and Bank of China sank more than 5 percent each, while Shanghai Shimao and Gemdale lost 9.5 and 8.9 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index tracked their mainland peers to close down 2.2 percent, hitting a two-week low.
Shares of Hong Kong-listed Sunac China Holdings plunged 7.06 percent following news that it is terminating a takeover deal for troubled Chinese developer Kaisa. Meanwhile, Evergrande Real Estate Group announced plans to raise around $600 million in a Hong Kong share offering.
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Nikkei rises 0.4%
Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed up at a fresh 15-year high of 20,551, extending gains to a tenth straight session, as the dollar-yen flirted with an eight-year peak in Asian trade. The Japanese currency touched 124.28 and retreated back to 123.67 by late Thursday.
According to Reuters, the index has chalked up its longest winning streak since February 1988.
As a result, exporter stocks especially carmakers, got a fillip. Honda Motor, Toyota Motor and Nissan climbed nearly 2 percent each, while Suzuki Motor moved up 0.8 percent. Sony trimmed early gains to close up 0.2 percent after the head of Sony's loss-making mobile telecom unit said late Wednesday that cost cuts may be necessary to absorb the dollar's sharp rise versus the yen.
The financial sector also helped to propel the bourse; Mizuho Financial rallied 5.9 percent, while Resona Holdings and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group surged 3.5 and 2.8 percent, respectively.
On the domestic data front, retail sales rose 5.0 percent in the year to April, data released before the market open showed on Thursday, missing expectations for a 5.4 percent rise, but still marking the monthly indicator's first increase in four months.