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Asian stocks mixed in cautious trade ahead of US jobs

Asian stocks were mixed on Friday, as focus turned to the release of U.S. jobs data for clues on when the Federal Reserve could cut back its stimulus program.

"Many in the equity world are talking about the Santa Claus rally heading into Christmas and New Year. Profit-taking, Fed fears, questioning of company earnings coupled with general sentiment all point to, at best, a flat month. I would even go as far to say a negative month looks highly likely, as volumes will drop away the closer we edge to Christmas and investors start to leave their desks," said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG in a morning note.

Investors also digested news that South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, passed away at the age of 95.

(Read more: Froth in US stocks, tech, bitcoin: Global CFO Council Survey)

Index Today's change Week-to-date change 30-day change Year-to-date change
Nikkei 0.81% -2.31% 7.55% 47.18%
Shanghai Composite -0.44% 0.75% 3.70% -1.41%
S&P ASX 200 -0.23% -2.52% -4.53% 11.55%
Kospi -0.22% -3.15% -1.66% -0.83%

US jobs, ECB watched

Data on Thursday showed the U.S. economy grew at a faster-than-estimated pace in the third quarter, fueling fears that the Fed could start paring down its bond-buying program soon.

The report came one day ahead of Friday's key non-farm payrolls figure. Economists expect the U.S. economy created about 180,000 new jobs last month, compared with 204,000 in October.

(Watch now: Former US Labor Secretary: 250,000 jobs needed)

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank (ECB) left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.25 percent on Thursday and maintained its forecast for an economic contraction of 0.4 percent this year. That saw the euro trade near a five-week high of $1.3677 against the greenback.

Nikkei 0.8% higher

Japan's benchmark Nikkei snapped two sessions of losses to rally in the final hour of trade following a volatile session that saw it touch a two-week low. In the past two days alone, the index has lost over 3 percent.

The yen resumed its decline, with the dollar rising back above the 102 yen handle, and that spurred gains amid blue-chip stocks. Index heavyweights Fast Retailing and Honda Motor rose over 1 percent each while Panasonic rallied 3 percent.

News that the government approved a $182 billion stimulus package lifted sentiment. Aimed at dulling the impact of an upcoming tax hike on the economy, the measures are expected to add 1 percentage point to gross domestic product.

Shanghai dips 0.4%

Mainland shares traded cautiously ahead of a deluge of economic data. November trade data will be released on Sunday while inflation and producer prices are due on Monday.

Financials were the biggest losers, with Haitong Securities leading losses by 3.7 percent. Citic Securities and New China Life Insurance lost over 2 percent each.

Shares of Cosco rose over 1 percent after the previous day's sharp falls on reports that it is under investigation for alleged price fixing.

Sydney slips 0.2%

Australia's benchmark S&P ASX 200 closed at its lowest level in nearly two months, ending the week 2.5 percent lower, the biggest weekly loss in six months. Meanwhile, the Australian dollar was steady around 90 U.S. cents.

Broadcaster Nine Entertainment closed down 3 percent at its debut on the Australian Securities Exchange, after raising about A$631 million from its initial public offering.

Qantas Airways slumped nearly 4 percent after Standard & Poor's cut its credit rating to junk status, one day after the carrier issued a profit warning that saw shares hit a 16-month low.

Agricultural stocks were mixed after Sydney and Seoul signed a free-trade agreement that will reportedly eliminate tariffs of up to 300 percent on Australian exports. Ruralco slipped 2 percent, Nufarm fell 1.6 percent while Graincorp rose 2 percent.

Kospi eases 0.2%

South Korean stocks posted their sixth day losses, closing at a new three-week low for a third straight session as blue-chips Hyundai Motor and steelmaker Posco fell over 1 percent each.

In India, the benchmark index took a breather to finish the session flat after the previous day's strong rally.

By CNBC.com's Nyshka Chandran. Follow her on Twitter @NyshkaCNBC

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