Asia Stocks End Mixed; Nikkei Drops Over 1%

Japan's extended losses on Friday on news that a conservative may be the leading candidate to head the Bank of Japan while Australian and South Korean shares ended a range-bound session relatively flat.

News that Toshiro Muto, a former finance ministry bureaucrat, is the leading candidate to become Bank of Japan Governor after current incumbent Shiraka steps down next month suggests the central bank may not pursue more radical measures to end nearly two decades of deflation.

Continued strength in the yen resulted in a 1.4 percent weekly loss for Japanese shares while Australia managed to hold onto it's four-and-a-half year high, continuing it's bull-run for a fifth consecutive week. Seoul clung onto three-week highs, posting a weekly gain of 2.2 percent.

Exporter stocks dragged down the Nikkei with automakers among the worst hit as investors pared their exposure ahead of a weekend meeting of G-20 finance ministers in Moscow.

Both Toyota Motor and Honda Motor slumped nearly 2 percent, while Yamaha Motor fell over 5 percent.

A sharp fall in the yen since November has lifted the Nikkei up 30 percent and Japan's economic policies, which have triggered the depreciation in the currency, are expected to come under criticism at the G-20 meeting. "I think the G-20 has to cut Japan some slack. The yen has weakened from a position of extreme strength. The Japanese currency is just normalizing," said Vasu Menon, VP of Wealth Management Singapore, OCBC Bank.

Gas and petroleum plays were amid the best performing sectors, led by a 13 percent rise in oil refiner Showa Shell Sekiyu KK after it said that it expects strong profits in this year.

Tokyo Electric Power, Kansai Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power posted gains of 3 to 4 percent, respectively.

Hang Seng Index to Hit 26,000 in 2013: Pro
Hang Seng Index to Hit 26,000 in 2013: Pro

Hong Kong shares finished the holiday-shortened week up 1 percent, but property developers like Wharf Holdings and Cheng Kong hurt the index, down 0.7 and 0.3 percent each. Trading volume remained thin as markets in China remain closed.

Stocks with exposure to Europe like global ports operator Cosco Pacific and retailer Esprit suffered, slumping as much as 1.5 percent each.

Geely Auto soared nearly 7.7 percent as the Chinese automaker reported January car sales rose 67 percent year-on-year early Friday.

South Korean shares closed flat with a lack of clear momentum as automakers weighed on the benchmark KOSPI index due to a strengthening of the Korean won.

Hyundai Motors gave up 1.4 percent while Kia Motors lost 0.4 percent. Ssangyong Motors came off a session high of 3 percent to finish 0.5 percent lower after its controlling stakeholder, India's Mahindra & Mahinda, announced it would invest $73.73 million in the automaker.

KB Financial fell over 2 percent after Dutch financial services group ING said on Thursday it sold its 5 percent stake in the South Korean lender.

Rio Tinto to Aggressively Reduce Costs: CEO
Rio Tinto to Aggressively Reduce Costs: CEO

Australian shares also finished flat in cautious trade amid a sell-off in resource plays.

"Our assessment remains that the market will head much higher as the profit outlook continues to improve and shares remain cheap relative to bank deposits and bonds, which is likely to encourage investor rotation back into shares," said Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy, AMP Capital in a note.

A $3 billion loss from Rio Tinto resulted in a 2.6 percent slide for the world's number two miner while rival BHP Billiton fell 0.8 percent. Atlas Iron slipped 2.4 percent and Alumina lost over 4 percent.

Strength returned to the banking space with Westpac leading gains by over 1 percent. However, Australia and New Zealand Banking, the country's fourth-largest bank, fell 1 percent despite a 6.2 percent rise in first quarter earnings.

Amid the biggest losers, SAI Global tumbled more than 5 percent after Credit Suisse cut it's rating on the information service provider to neutral.

Coming Up Next Week:

MONDAY: Earnings from Lend Lease, Bendigo Adelaide bank, Bluescope, Boart Longyear & Bridgestone; Korea PPI, Thai Q4 GDP.

TUESDAY: RBA minutes; Earnings from CC Amatil.

WEDNESDAY: Earnings from BHP Billiton, Fortescue; Japan Jan trade data, Bank of Thailand interest rates decision.

THURSDAY: Earnings from Alumina, ASX, IAG, Qantas, COSCO, Genting; China HSBC Flash PMI

FRIDAY: Taiwan Q4 GDP; Earnings from United Overseas Insurance, Wilmar.