Asia Turns Mixed After Losses; Nikkei Rallies

Nyshka Chandran

Asian markets eased off session lows to turn mixed on Thursday on concerns over domestic factors but optimism over monetary stimulus led Japan's Nikkei to snap a two-day losing streak.

The Nikkei eked out a last-minute gain of 1 percent, Sydney's hit a one-week low on weak commodity prices and Seoul's benchmark closed up 0.1 percent to recover from a four-week low. Meanwhile, Shanghai and Hong Kong shares moved off earlier multi-month lows.

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Asian markets have under performed their U.S and European counterparts this month. The FTSE CNBC Asia 100 index is only up 0.6 percent since March, compared to a 2.8 percent surge in the blue-chip Dow Jones index and the London 2.3 percent gain.

However, analysts tell CNBC that emerging markets in Asia still remain attractive. "The U.S. is a preferred option for most foreign investors but because of what Asia offers, we do think these flows will shift from west to east," said Catherine Yeung, Investment Director at asset manager Fidelity Worldwide Investment.

Nikkei Rebounds

Gains in Tokyo equities were supported by expectations of radical stimulus as investors awaited confirmation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new 'dream team' at the Bank of Japan

The lower house of parliament is expected to approve Haruhiko Kuroda as central bank governor later on Thursday with a vote in the upper house taking place Friday. Parliament is also expected to give the nod to the government's two nominees for deputy governor, Kikuo Iwata and Hiroshi Nakaso.

Hopes of stimulus measures by the new leadership boosted property stocks, since aggressive easing of monetary policy works to inflate asset prices such as real estate. Tokyo Tatemono rallied 10 percent and Tokyu Land jumped 5.6 percent.

China Liquidity Fears

Marc Faber on Investing in China

In Shanghai, shares rebounded 0.3 percent after hitting a two-month low earlier in the session. Fresh fears of tight monetary police arose after the central bank announced Thursday that it will drain roughly $2.9 billion from money markets.

Comments from central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan on Wednesday that the government will keep monetary policy stable did little to soothe speculation over whether the world's second largest economy has embarked on a tightening cycle.

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Ryan Tsai, Senior Investment Analyst at Greater China, Coutts told CNBC that while conditions in the near-term may not look great, stocks remain cheap. "Chinese equities are trading at 9.7x forward earnings with 11 percent EPS (earnings per share) growth potential. We still see absolute upside for the rest of the year."

Meanwhile, Hong Kong shares closed up, making its first gain in three days. Bucking the trend were property stocks after banks raised mortgage rates for the first time in two years, with Henderson Land and Sun Hung Kai Properties both slipping 3.3 percent.

Sydney Resources Fall

Oz Jobs Data Diminishes Rate Cut Hopes

Australia's benchmark index closed at its lowest levels in over a week as declines in the resource sector offset February's strong employment data, which marked the biggest monthly increase in a decade.

Steel producers suffered the brunt of losses as a strong U.S. dollar weighed on metal prices overnight. Both Arrium and Fortescue tumbled 6 percent each.

Shares of Australia's largest hospital operator, Ramsay Health Care, added 2.7 Percent on news that it may enter a joint-venture with Malaysia's Sime Darby. The news sparked a rally across healthcare-related stocks with a 3 percent gain in Sigma Pharmaceuticals.

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In Seoul, the benchmark hit a four-week low of 1,978 points but managed to end in positive territory after the central bank held interest rates steady for a fifth consecutive month. The move came at a period of heightened uncertainty as tensions with North Korea rattle investors and a declining pace of exports hurts manufacturers.