Asian stocks ended higher on Thursday following a choppy session, with mainland shares outperforming, as investors shrugged off disappointing Chinese trade figures.
Chinese exports slumped 6.6 percent in March, well below estimates for a 4 percent gain and following February's dramatic 18 percent plunge. Imports meanwhile, fell an annual 11.3 percent, underperforming expectations for a 2.4 percent rise. Following the data, Chinese Premier Li said the government won't take any short-term stimulus measures to deal with the economy's short-term volatility.
"We're back to the twisted logic that bad news is good news. I suspect that despite Premier Li's words, Beijing will be forced to ease. I don't think Li may be telling the entire truth; they need to ease because growth is relatively weak. Easing could come in the form of a RRR cut, an interest rate cut or currency weakness," said Nicholas Ferres, investment director, global asset allocation at Eastspring Investments.
Fed minutes in focus
Sentiment also got a boost after minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting indicated that members were set on keeping interest rates low for the foreseeable future, which quashed fears of a sooner-than-expected interest rate hike
Shanghai Composite 1.3%
Mainland shares rallied in the final hour of trade following news that Beijing will allow cross-border investment between Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets, which experts call a significant move towards the opening of China's capital markets.
Sentiment also rose on news that the People's Bank of China conducted a net weekly fund injection for first time since January. The Shanghai Composite extended gains into a second straight session, closing at its highest level in nearly two months.
Investors also digested news that the PBOC's new chief economist, Ma Jun, is pushing a plan to liberalize Beijing's financial system within three years, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Japanese shares pared gains after rising as much as 1 percent in the morning session as the resumed its strength. Still, the benchmark Nikkei ended its four-day losing streak.
Against the dollar, the yen moved closer to Tuesday's three-week high of 101.5 and revisited Wednesday's one-week high of 140 against the .
Data out in early trade showed machinery orders tumbled 8.8 percent in February from January, worse than estimates for a 3 percent decline. Following the data, the government cuts its assessment of machinery orders and said that the increasing trend is stalling.
Toyota Motor shed over 2 percent after announcing late on Wednesday that it will recall 6 million vehicles.
ASX rises 0.3%
Australia's benchmark hit a new five-and-a half-year high for a second straight session while the Australian dollar soared to a fresh five-month high of $0.9439 following robust employment data.
The economy created 181,000 jobs in March, exceeding expectations for an increase of 5,000. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, lower than Reuters estimates for 6 percent.
Ten Network rallied 2 percent after reporting a smaller half-year loss on Thursday.
South Korean shares bounced between gains and losses after spiking to a fresh 2014 high earlier in the session while the strengthened 0.8 percent to a six-year high against the greenback, prompting the country's Ministry of Strategy & Finance to call the short-term spike "undesirable."
Meanwhile, the central bank left interest rates steady at 2.5 percent, as widely expected. The meeting was the first under new governor Lee Ju-yeo.
Jakarta Composite tanks 3.2%
Indonesian shares and the rupiah fell to three-week lows after early polls from legislative elections showed that the country's main opposition party got only 19 percent of votes, versus pre-election predictions of as high as 25 percent.