Nikkei slips before US jobs; rest of Asia shares gain on bargain hunting
Japanese shares reversed gains to close in negative territory on Thursday amid caution over domestic earnings while the rest of Asian equities ended higher as investors went bargain hunting after recent selling.
Caution prevailed ahead of Friday's U.S. jobs report; traders are hoping for a rebound after December's disappointing reading. Another weak report could dent investor sentiment, which has been hurt by the turmoil in emerging markets, slowing Chinese growth and a reduction in U.S. stimulus.
(Read more: Why Fed volatility is emerging markets' 'poison')
Central banks are also in the spotlight with policy decision from the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of England (BOE) due later in the day. While analysts don't expect any action from either bank, focus will be on forward guidance and hints about future easing.
Nikkei sheds 0.2%
Japan's benchmark Nikkei crawled below the flatline in the final hour of trade as investors digested mixed earnings reports. The index has been trading below its 200-day simple moving average (SMA) for three straight sessions.
(Read more: Yen may sway stocks, but will earnings suffer?)
A weaker currency helped the index rise nearly 1 percent earlier in the session while comments by Bank of Japan Deputy Governors also underpinned gains. Hiroshi Nakaso said monetary policy may be adjusted if risks threaten the central bank's 2 percent inflation target while Kikuo Iwata said the economy was strong enough to withstand April's sales tax hike.
Sydney gains 1.2%
Australia's benchmark S&P ASX 200 index snapped three days of losses to post its biggest one-day gain in 3 weeks while the Australian dollar hit its highest level in over three weeks following positive economic data.
December's trade surplus came in at A$468 million when markets were expecting a A$200 million deficit while retail sales beat estimates to rise a monthly 0.5 percent. Analysts said the upbeat data supports the view that the Reserve Bank of Australia was done cutting rates.
Retailers rallied; David Jones rose 1 percent while Wesfarmers jumped 2.7 percent.
(Read more: Australia stocks no longer expensive: Goldman)
Supermarket giant Woolworths rallied over 2 percent after posting a 6 percent rise in first-half sales while gambling firm Tabcorp inched down 0.9 percent despite reporting a 2.3 percent gain in first-half profit.
Kospi up 0.9%
South Korean stocks rose for a second straight session, closing at their highest levels in over a week. Market confidence rose after data showed foreign net investment in domestic bonds rose in January for the first time in six months. The data follows Wednesday's news that the country's forex reserves hit a new peak for the seventh straight month in January.
The country's largest search-engine portal Naver surged as much as 8 percent on the back of upbeat fourth-quarter earnings while Lotte Chemical increased 3 percent after reporting better-than-expected October-December earnings.
Emerging markets mixed
Indian stocks fell 0.5 percent but pared losses and finished the session up 0.25 percent. Philippine's benchmark index closed 0.1 percent higher.
Shanghai markets remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.
— By CNBC.com's Nyshka Chandran. Follow her on Twitter