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Asia stocks finish mixed in choppy trade ahead of ECB decision

Asian equities closed mixed in choppy trading Thursday, as traders braced for a highly-anticipated European Central Bank meeting.

Economists surveyed by Reuters expect the European Central Bank to cut its main refinancing rate to 0.1 percent and launch a package of other stimulus measures at the conclusion of its policy review at 7:45 pm SIN/HK.

Read MoreWhat market pros expect Draghi and the ECB to do

"We need to be cognizant that traders are looking out for a lowering of the rates 'corridor' (i.e. a cut to the lending, refinancing and deposit rate), however the ECB's inflation expectations are also in focus and likely to be lowered, with Draghi's press conference focusing on more unconventional policy easing. The conference is where we look out for a new capital injection into banks or measures to expand excess liquidity in the region," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG.

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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Meanwhile, a raft of U.S. data saw Wall Street shares gain overnight. The Federal Reserve's Beige Book of regional business conditions found growth expansion in all of the Fed's 12 districts while the ISM non-manufacturing index rose to 56.3 in May. That beat estimates and offset May's ADP report, which saw the creation of 179,000 private jobs, below expectations for 215,000.

Nikkei flat

Japanese shares managed to end at a near three-month high, extending gains into a fourth straight session. Profit-taking and a stronger currency capped gains however, as the yen retreated from Wednesday's one-month low of 102.79 per dollar.

Softbank, the principal owner of Sprint, ended 0.3 percent higher on news that the U.S. firm is closing in on an agreement to pay $40 a share to buyT-Mobile US.

Beermaker Sapporo Holdings lost more than 6 percent after saying it may be required to pay an extra $113 million in liquor taxes.

Read MoreIs the Nikkei's rise just beginning?

ASX 0.1% lower

Australia's benchmark index fell to a new two-week low, extending losses into a third session, after data showed the economy posted a trade deficit of A$122 million in April, compared to forecasts for a surplus of $A300 million.

Miners rose as copper prices rebounded from Wednesday's three-week low. Fortescue Metals rose over 4 percent while Atlas Iron rallied over 2 percent.

The country's largest listed agribusiness Graincorp eased 0.5 percent after saying it will invest A$200 million into its country grain storage network.

Read MoreThis is weighing on Australia's exports

China shares mixed

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite reversed earlier losses to jump nearly 1 percent, snapping a four-day losing streak and bouncing off Wednesday's two-week low. Data out in early trade showed growth in the country's services sector fell to a four-month low in May.

Financials led the gains; Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China rose 1.6 percent each while Pudong Development Bank added nearly 2 percent.

Read MoreCommodity financing worries at China port rise

Hong Kong stocks meanwhile dipped 0.2 percent, retreating further from Tuesday's five-month high.

Kospi dips 0.6%

South Korea's benchmark index ended at a three-week low as investors sold off shares before Friday's Memorial Day holiday. Markets were also shut Wednesday for regional elections. For the week, the Kospi index was flat.

Among the biggest losers, Kia Motors closed down 1.7 percent while Samsung Electronics eased nearly 1 percent.

Sensex rises

Indian shares finished higher by 0.9 percent in choppy trade after closing at a new record high on Tuesday.

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