Asia stocks mostly higher, but Syria concerns weigh
Asian shares were mostly higher Friday, but gains were capped by uncertainty over the stability of emerging markets and the possibility of a military strike against Syria despite indications a delay might be in the offing.
"Shares are vulnerable over the next month or two with various events and risks that could trigger investor nervousness," Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital, said in a note, citing factors including nervousness over the Federal Reserve's September meeting and the U.S. budget negotiations as well as concerns over Syria, Italy and emerging markets.
Japan's Nikkei 225 erased early gains, to end down 0.5 percent after rising as much as 1.2 percent in early trade on upbeat economic data. Exacerbating shares' decline, the yen also reversed course, erasing an early slip to gain ground on the U.S. dollar. The index finished a volatile month down 2.0 percent.
Korea's Kospi ended up 0.5 percent, managing to eke out a 0.6 percent gain for the month despite regional volatility. Australia's S&P ASX 200 finished up 0.8 percent, for a 1.6 percent gain for August.
China's Shanghai Composite ended up 0.1 percent, for a 5.2 percent gain in August; Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index also edged up 0.1 percent for the day, but lost 0.7 percent for the month.
Syria developments eyed
Britain decided it would not join any military action in Syria after a parliamentary defeat Thursday of the government's motion on the issue, in a move many saw as likely delaying any strike.
But others disagreed. "While the U.K. parliament vote against military action in Syria may make it seem air-strikes are less likely, the argument could be made in the U.S. that they are unlikely to generate further quick international support and waiting to debate it further may achieve little but appear to lack resolve," Greg Gibbs, a senior foreign-exchange strategist at RBS, said in a note.
"If the U.S. administration is leaning in favor of air-strikes, the best timing is as soon as the U.N. inspectors leave the country on Saturday," he added.
The stronger yen likely took several of Japan's exporter shares off highs, with Honda Motor erasing early gains to finish down 1.0 percent. Bucking the trend, Panasonic tacked on 2.4 percent after it said it would pay an interim dividend; it didn't pay a dividend last year.
Samsung Electronics was up 1.8 percent after South Korea launched a dispute at the World Trade Organization to complain about U.S. punitive damages on its washing machines.
Virgin Australia dropped 3.7 percent after reporting a full-year net loss of A$98.1 million ($87.6 million), blaming difficult economic conditions, strong competition and one-off costs from its Skywest acquisition; the results were in line with expectations.
But gains in Australia's banks helped to support the index, with ANZ advancing 0.8 percent.
In Singapore, commodities firm Olam dropped 2.1 percent, helping to keep Singapore's STI essentially flat after it reported a 48 percent drop in its fiscal fourth-quarter net profit to S$56.8 million ($44.4 million), well below the S$75.4 million analysts expected, according to a Reuters poll.
(Read more: Just what will stop the emerging market carnage?)
Several emerging markets continued to recover slightly from their recent rout, although concerns persisted that better-than-expected U.S. data Thursday would support the Federal Reserve's plan to taper its bond buying.
Philippine shares added 2.2 percent, extending Thursday's more than 3 percent recovery after the archipelago reported better-than-expected GDP data. Indonesian shares tacked on 1.4 percent after its central bank raised interest rates at an emergency meeting Thursday in a move to defend its currency, which has been hammered by outflows.
India's shares gained 0.2 percent after the rupee rebounded on Thursday off its recent record lows as the central bank sold dollars to oil companies to stem outflows. Trade was cautious as India's gross domestic product data for the second quarter are due after the market close.
Oil prices extended Thursday's sharp retreat, after Britain said it wouldn't get involved in military action against Syria.
(Read more: Phew! Futures indicate that oil spike won't last)
Brent crude for October delivery was at $115.19 a barrel, after settling $1.45 lower at $115.16 a barrel Thursday. Brent had jumped more than 5 percent in the previous two sessions.
U.S. crude for October delivery was at $108.07 after settling Thursday down $1.30 a barrel at $108.80.