Nikkei Hits 4 1/2-Year High; US Jobs in Focus
Japan's Nikkei jumped to a new four-and-half-year high on Friday thanks to the yen's decline, while China's strong export data lifted other Asian shares. Investors however, remain cautious as focus shifts to upcoming U.S. job numbers.
Tokyo shares closed firmly above the 12,000-mark, Australia pared earlier losses to end within sight of fresh highs and Hong Kong shares rallied 1.4 percent. Amid losers, Seoul's Kospi barely managed to stay above the 2,000-level and Shanghai shares were range bound.
China's trade figures for February revealed signs of a steady recovery in the world's second-largest economy. Trade surplus and exports came in stronger than estimated forecasts but imports slumped 15 percent from a year earlier.
Analysts were quick to dismiss the negative import data. "I wouldn't read too much into that (fall in imports). I think it reflects the fact that we had 10 less trading days than a year ago, that's the real issue," said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy & chief economist at AMP Capital Investors.
Nikkei Scales New Highs
Tokyo stocks gained for a seventh straight session after economic data and a weak yen underpinned the Nikkei's gains. Revised fourth-quarter GDP figures early Friday showed the economy slowly stabilizing after two quarters of recession.
(Read More: Behind Nikkei's Gains—It's Not Just the Weak Yen)
The Japanese currency hit a fresh three-and-half-year low against the dollar on expectations after China's robust export data lifted sentiment, helping spur a rally in domestic-focused stocks such as Fast Retailing, which closed up 9.7 percent.
The Nikkei closed at its highest level since September 2008, making it Asia's best performing stock index with a gain of nearly 20 percent since the start of 2013.
In Hong Kong, hopes of a pick-up in China's economy lifted shares into positive territory for the week. Mainland markets largely ignored the trade data figures to focus on domestic issues. Property stocks were in focus with China Merchants Property and Vanke down 2 percent each.
As worries continue to surface over last week's strict measures to curb speculative demand, investors are beginning to question investing in the property sector.
Tony Nash of IHS told CNBC that apart from real estate, there is no other place to park cash in China. "Its tough to get a return on equities. You get negative real interest rates in savings accounts and private wealth is being closed down so, real estate is where the funds are being channeled."
North Korea Threats
Geopolitical risk factors capped gains in Seoul after Pyongyang threatened a nuclear war. South Korean markets showed little reaction to North Korea's nuclear test last month but investors are worried that any continued provocation may rattle markets.
The news saw the Korean won approach a four-month low against the U.S dollar . Blue-chips were unable to gain from the won's weakness as Samsung Electronics dropped 1.4 percent, extending losses for a second session.
In Sydney, strong export data in the mainland helped lift shares to trade within 10 points of a four-and-a-half-year high.
Gains in mining stocks also helped propel shares higher after metal prices rebounded overnight. Beadell Resources rallied 19.3 percent and the world's second-largest miner Rio Tinto rose 1.8 percent.