Asia Markets

Asian shares mixed; Weak China data limits Shanghai gains

Asian shares traded mixed on late Thursday, as weaker-than-expected Chinese economic data limited gains in Shanghai and Tokyo.

U.S. stocks were little changed on Wednesday as investors mulled over the global economic climate and tracked events in Ukraine.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 finished little changed. After a four-day losing streak, the Nasdaq erased initial losses to close 0.4 percent higher.

Shanghai gains 0.7%

Mainland shares trimmed gains after the release of below-view February retail sales and industrial output figures.

China's combined industrial output for January and February rose 8.6 percent from the year ago period, official data showed Thursday, worse than a Reuters forecast for a climb of 9.5 percent.

Combined retail sales for the period were up 11.8 percent on year, missing Reuters expectations for an increase of 13.5 percent.

China data reflects gradual slowdown
China data reflects gradual slowdown

Despite the weaker data, banking stocks remained in positive territory; Agricultural Bank of China rallied 3 percent while Shanghai Pudong bank climbed 3.3 percent.

Electric stocks also posted gains, as investors consider the sector safe amid a slowing economy. Shanghai Electric Power piled on 4.9 percent.

Traders also watched the close of China's annual National People's Congress, where the Chinese government said during a press conference that it is paying "high" attention to risks in the country's financial sector and was "flexible" on meeting the 7.5 percent growth target on Thursday.

(Read more: Marc Faber: China is growing at 4% and that's okay)

Tokyo slips 0.1%

After opening 0.4 higher on Thursday, Japan's benchmark Nikkei eventually finished slightly lower, extending losses following a tumble of 2.6 percent in the previous session.

Thursday's China data weighed on the bourse, erasing the positive sentiment created earlier in the session by Japan's latest core machinery orders, which rose 13.4 percent in January from a month earlier. The domestic figure came in well above analysts expectations in a Reuters poll for a rise of 7 percent.

Gainers for the day included index heavyweights Softbank which rallied 1.7 percent.

Exporter stocks Fast Retailing and Toyota Motor ditched gains on late Thursday to inch down 0.2 percent, respectively. The latter was in focus after it said it will give its Japan-based workers their biggest pay raise in 21 years on Wednesday.

Weakness in metal shares capped gains amid continued jitters over China's economic outlook. Sumitomo Metal Mining widened losses to 1.4 percent while and Dowa Holdings slumped 1.5 percent.

(Read more: Toyota gives Japan workers biggest pay raise in 21 years)

Sydney rises 0.5%

Australian shares finished higher on Thursday as the key S&P ASX 200 index got a fillip from robust domestic jobs data and a recovery in mining stocks.

Australia's February jobs numbers surged by 47,300, beating Reuters expectations of a rise of 18,000. This was also the biggest gain in 13 months.

However, some analysts sounded doubts on the data.

Why Australia's jobs data may be unreliable
Why Australia's jobs data may be unreliable

Ray Attrill, Co-Head of FX Strategy at NAB, told CNBC's Capital Connection, "It's extremely unreliable. Survey sample drawn for the employment data was extremely small, represents less than half a percent of the population and we calculated that if as little as half of a dozen extra people said they were unemployed in the survey, it would be enough to tick the unemployment rate up to 6.1 percent."

Elevated on the back of stabilized metal prices and bargain-hunting, mining stocks Atlas Iron held gains at 6 percent all day, while Fortescue Metals added 3 percent.

Mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton added 2.8 and 1.2 percent each. Gold stock Newcrest Mining also notched up 3 percent.

"Copper and iron ore both stabilized, while gold pushed towards a 24-week high. As a result today might see some bargain hunting in the resource space being the dominant theme," IG Market Strategist Stan Shamu said in a note.

Leighton Holdings tumbled 1.5 percent, underpinned by news of its chief executive Hamish Tyrwhitt was replaced by German builder Hochtief's chief executive Marcelino Fernandez Verdes on Thursday. Hochtief also marginally upped its bid to $1.08 billion, as it seeks to increase its 58 percent stake in Leighton to about 74 percent.

(Read more: Chinese Premier: Some debt defaults are 'unavoidable')

Seoul adds 0.1%

South Korean shares ended modestly higher on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the benchmark Kospi index slumped to a three-week low on its biggest daily loss, following lingering concerns about China's economy.

However, some analysts feel Thursday's rebound may be short lived.

"What we're seeing today is a reaction to yesterday's sharp decline based on price (valuation merits). But concerns about China remain the biggest issue for the market and this will continue to affect markets throughout the first half of this year," said Hana Daetoo analyst Chang Hee-jong to Reuters.

SK Telecom was among top gainers by notching up 1.8 percent.

Blue-chip steel maker Posco advanced 0.5 percent, on renewed interest from foreign investors. Samsung Electronics lost all its gains after midday and eventually finished 0.3 percent lower.

Meanwhile, the South Korean central bank kept interest rates unchanged at 2.5 percent earlier in the session, in line with market expectations.

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