Asia Markets

Asian equities mixed as Russia tensions weigh; Nikkei pops 1%


Asian stocks were mixed on Thursday as investors fretted about tougher sanctions against Russia.

A weak lead from Wall Street also contributed to the cautious mood. U.S. stocks slid on Wednesday, with benchmark indexes failing to maintain a second day of gains, after U.S. President Barack Obama cautioned against complacency on Russian moves in Ukraine.

Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund held bailout discussions Wednesday as EU leaders, along with President Obama, say they are preparing tougher sanctions against Moscow that could be used if it takes further steps to destabilize Ukraine.

(Read more: Obama to Europe: Cut reliance on Russian gas)

Nikkei pops 1%

Japanese shares ended at a two-week high after tumbling as much as 1.5 percent in the morning. A weaker currency underpinned gains as the climbed back above the 102 level against the greenback. Earlier in the session, the currency hit a one-week high of 101.71 per dollar.

Large-cap stocks led the gains with Fast Retailing and Sharp both closing over 3 percent higher.

(Read more: Japan stocks: Time to bottom fish?)

Don't write off Abenomics just yet: ANZ

ANA Holdings finished 1.3 percent lower after announcing it will order 70 new planes, including 20 Boeing jets.

Most blue chips traded ex-dividend, i.e. without rights to their latest dividend, which added initial pressure on the . Financials were among the biggest losers; trading house Itochu lost nearly 4 percent, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial shed 3 percent while Mizuho fell 1 percent.

Sentiment was also cautious ahead of the nation's sales tax hike next week, which many experts say will take a hit on consumer spending.

(Read more: Japan's sales tax hike: What you need to know)

Shanghai Composite slips 0.8%

Mainland shares extended losses into a second session on fears of tight liquidity after the People's Bank of China drained funds on Thursday, which sent money market rates higher. The seven-day benchmark repo rate rose to 4.8 percent, up nearly 1 percent from Wednesday's close.

In earnings news, China Eastern Airlines lost 1.2 percent after its profit fell 25 percent last year while the country's second-largest shipping-operator, China Shipping Container Lines, fell over 2 percent after posting a $431 million loss in 2013.

(Read more: Chinese developers go after alternative financing)

In Hong Kong, Tencent tumbled 6 percent following losses in U.S. tech stocks overnight.

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Kospi 0.7% higher

South Korean shares closed at a one-month high as foreigners picked up large-cap stocks. Index heavyweight Samsung Electronics leapt nearly 4 percent while Hyundai Motor ended 1.2 percent higher.

Department stores rose despite data showing combined sales at department store chains fell an annual 2.4 percent in February compared to January's 6.8 percent gain. Lotte Shopping rose 1.5 percent and Hyundai Department Store rallied nearly 3 percent.

Sensex up 0.5%

India's benchmark index hit a record high of 22,204 points for a fourth straight session as foreign investors extended their buying streak on hopes for an economic recovery.

Sydney 0.5% lower

Australia's benchmark bucked Asia-wide gains amid weakness in mining shares. Still, the index managed to pare losses after falling 1 percent earlier in the session.

BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals fell by more than 1 percent each as copper prices retreated from the previous day's two-week high. Gold producers also suffered as bullion traded around $1,300 an ounce. Evolution Mining shed 5 percent while Alacer Gold ended nearly 9 percent lower.

Rare earths miner Lynas soared 25 percent after saying it expects higher commercial production and sales for the March 2014 quarter than the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar extended gains, trading at a 4-month high above 92 U.S. cents.