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China stocks roar back in 2014, trashing India

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ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images

Breaking out of a multi-year slump, Chinese equities stormed ahead to become the top performing Asian market of 2014, trumping Indian stocks after being locked in a tight race this year.

The notoriously volatile Shanghai Composite advanced 52.8 percent this year, making it second-best performer globally behind Argentina, as domestic retail investors' increasing enthusiasm for stocks and expectations for further policy easing fueled a stellar rally.

In stark contrast, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index, ended the year up just 1.3 percent as political unrest tied to pro-democracy protests turned off investors.

Trailing behind China in second place, India's Sensex finished up around 30 percent in what has been a milestone year for the market that hit an-all time high in November.

Gains have been powered by optimism around the ability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took office in May, to push through reforms needed to unleash "animal spirits" to spur Asia's third largest economy.

Strategists expect momentum for both markets to continue into the new year.

Read MoreChina's top five macro themes next year: HSBC

"Reforms are panning out in India so there's still a lot of potential to be unlocked," Ryan Huang, market strategist at IG, told CNBC. "For China, we should see more efforts to stimulate the economy, in addition to reforms."

The two Asian giants far outperformed their BRIC peers, with Russia and Brazil stocks ending the year down 45 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

It has been a challenging year for global equities, which have contended with an uncertain global economic environment, geopolitical risks and crashing oil prices. Global stocks rose a meager 3 percent this year, according to the MSCI All Country World Index, which is made up of stocks from both emerging and developed markets.

An unexpected plunge in oil prices gets much of the blame. In a move likely to wreak economic havoc on vulnerable oil exporters such as Russia and Venezuela, oil prices hit more than five year lows Tuesday, tanking around 50 percent since mid-June as feeble global demand compounded by strong supply growth.

Smaller markets shine

South and Southeast Asian markets also featured in the top-five performing markets after registering double-digit gains.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka stocks rose 26 percent and 23 percent, respectively, benefiting from a wave of foreign buying.

Philippines and Indonesia equities followed close behind, both rising over 22 percent.

Philippines stock market has been supported by robust fundamentals, as one of the region's fastest growing economies with a favorable younger demographic, a growing middle class and surging remittances from overseas.

Meanwhile, Indonesia equities have gotten a fillip from euphoria over the country's new President, Joko Widodo, who took the helm in October.

Not all markets in Asia enjoyed the same good fortune this year, however. Oil-exporter Malaysia was the region's worst performer, falling more than 5 percent this year, dragged down by the slump in crude prices. And the pain is expected to continue.

"Although we maintain a bullish outlook for Malaysia in the longer term, we foresee a very rocky road ahead. This bearish near-term outlook is supported by falling oil prices … and would unlikely reverse, suggesting that the KLSE would suffer a similar fate as oil prices," said Daniel Ang, investment analyst at Phillip Futures.

Leader turned laggard

Japan, the star of 2013, lost some of its momentum this year.

The country's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose just 7 percent, following a near-60 percent rally last year, as the economy struggled to shake off the blow of April's sales tax hike and doubts lingered over whether Abenomics would be successful in ending two decades of economic stagnation.

However, next year could be better, say strategists, as the yen continues to weaken and global growth picks up, benefiting the country's exporters.

Earlier this month, Morgan Stanley raised its 12-month target on the Topix to 1,680 from 1,500, marking 20 percent upside from current levels.