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Asian stocks mostly higher; Nikkei reverses gains despite upbeat data

Asian equities were mostly higher on Thursday amid growing confidence in the global economic recovery but Japanese shares fell as profit-taking overshadowed strong data.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 hit a new all-time closing high and the Nasdaq a fresh thirteen-year high after the Federal Reserve's Beige Book found the economy to be expanding at a moderate pace, while a separate report showed U.S. inflation pressures remain benign.

Following the World Bank's optimistic report on global growth Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund sounded a more cautious note, warning that the global economy will continue to grow below its potential of 4 percent this year.

(Read more: IMF head asks policymakers to coddle recovery)

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 slips 0.4%

Profit-taking saw Japan's benchmark Nikkei index reverse gains to close in negative territory despite upbeat economic data and a weaker currency. Machinery orders rose an annual 16.6 percent in November, surpassing Reuters' forecasts for a 11.7 percent rise, and that saw dollar-yen move closer to the key 105 mark.

(Read more: Japan Inc, is your 'animal spirit' calling?)

"The overall uptrend is likely to continue, thanks to improved corporate profits, continuing weakness for the yen, favorable tax treatment for capex, and last-minute demand before the consumption tax increase," said Harumi Taguchi, principal economist at IHS Economics.

Investors also shrugged off news that the Bank of Japan used the term "recovery" for all nine economic regions for the first time since 2005. Among the top losers, Fast Retailing fell 2.3 percent and Nintendo lost 2 percent.

Shanghai flat

The benchmark Shanghai Composite traded in a narrow 20-point range after the nation recorded a 5.3 percent annual rise in foreign direct investment for 2013.

Concerns that a glut of initial public offerings (IPOs) will squeeze liquidity remained in focus after the securities regulator said it began inspecting IPO pricing behavior. Earlier this month, Beijing announced the end of a year-long freeze on new stock market listings.

(Read more: Don't bet on China's luxury spenders: Goldman)

Railway shares dragged on the index. CSR Corp, China Central Railway and Daqin Railway fell over 1 percent each.

In Hong Kong, China Mobile rose 0.3 percent one day before it starts selling the Apple iPhone.

Sydney up 1.2%

Australia's benchmark S&P ASX 200 index outperformed its peers, posting its biggest one-day rise in three weeks, after weak employment data prompted expectations of further easing from the Reserve Bank of Australia.

(Read more: Will Australia's jobs shocker put the RBA to work?)

The economy lost 22,600 jobs in December, compared to Reuters forecasts for a rise of 7,500, and that saw the Australian dollar tank over 1 percent to hit its lowest level since 2010.

Resource firms were in focus as they released output reports. Rio Tinto rose 2 percent after reporting an 8 percent rise in fourth-quarter iron ore shipments while Newcrest Mining climbed 7 percent following its strong 2013 production performance.

Warrnambool Cheese rallied 1.3 percent on news that Bega Cheese will sell its 18.8 percent stake in the dairy producer to Canadian firm Saputo.

Kospi 0.2% higher

A firm bounce for large-cap exporters helped South Korea's benchmark index close at a new one-week high for a second-straight session.

Hyundai Motor added 0.8 percent while steelmaker Posco rose 0.5 percent after picking president Kwon Oh-joon as its new chief executive.

Thailand rallies 1.9%

Thai shares rallied despite several economists revising down their forecasts for economic growth due to ongoing protests in Bangkok. Investors also shrugged off a report from the Bangkok Post that said political unrest is scaring away prospective foreign investors.

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

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