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India rate cut, oil price rebound boost Asian shares

Asian stock markets traded mostly higher amid choppy trade on Thursday, as a rebound in energy prices provided some reprieve for oil-related counters. In India, markets clinched fresh highs after the country's central bank unveiled a surprise cut in its key repo rate by 25 basis points to 7.75 percent.

"Volatility could be the 'new normal' through first quarter, as markets continue to grapple with falling inflation, spiraling commodities, crazy bond yields, political uncertainties and ultimately a market that feels central banks have no juice to meet their mandates," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG.

Read MoreAs crude falls, some fund managers snap up oil stocks

U.S. crude rose for a second session, with February delivery up 43 cents at $48.91 a barrel by 0005 GMT. Brent oil also rallied overnight, rising more than $2 or 4.5 percent, also its sharpest percentage gain since June 2012.

A couple of contributing factors, including the options expiration, led to the rebound, analysts say. "There was also roll-over activity, so as the Feb contract is rolling out, the March is going to become the front-month and we will see the volume transition from the Feb into the March," Ben Lichtenstein, president and founder of Traders Audio, told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia."

"In addition, this market has been sold so hard [that] you will see some profit-taking at some time."

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Nikkei jumps 1.9%

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index was one of the best performers in the region on Thursday, snapping a two-day losing streak on the back of a weaker yen. The U.S. dollar was fetching 117.8 yen in the afternoon, compared with 117.1 at Wednesday's close.

Exporters mostly recovered from the slump in previous sessions. Among gainers, Sony and Nintendo closed up nearly 3 percent each, while Toyota Motor scaled up 1.8 percent.

Softbank is in focus for investing some $600 million, along with Alibaba and others, in a Chinese taxi-hailing app operator Travice. Shares of the mobile carrier advanced nearly 1 percent.

Bucking the uptrend, Skymark Airlines closed down 7 percent after the Asahi Shimbun reported that the struggling airline decided not to seek help from ANA Holdings.

Meanwhile, Japan's core machinery orders increased by a smaller-than-expected 1.3 percent for the month of November, government data showed on Thursday, suggesting capital expenditure among manufacturers could weaken. The reading is significantly lower than a 5.0 percent rise forecast by Reuters, but an improvement from a 6.4 percent decline in October.

Read MoreHK housing fix: Good, but not good enough

Mainland indices up

China's Shanghai Composite index reversed opening losses to finish 3.5 percent higher, hitting a near one-week high, while the blue-chip CSI 300 index rose 2.9 percent.

Infrastructure plays were among the top gainers on Thursday, following reports that the government plans to boost investment to the western provinces by $96.9 billion. Hence, train makers CSR and China CNR surged by the maximum allowable 10 percent each.

Meanwhile, energy plays also garnered positive momentum from a halt in the falling of oil prices; PetroChina and China Oilfield Services elevated more than 8 and 3.6 percent each. Insurers also supported the bourse higher, as China Pacific Insurance and China Life Insurance tacked on 8.1 and 9.6 percent, and Ping An Insurance added 6.7 percent.

Meanwhile, central bank data showed Chinese banks issuing far less credit in December than expected despite a surprise rate cut by the central bank in late November.

In Hong Kong, the key Hang Seng index widened gains to advance 0.7 percent by late Thursday.

EM Asia higher

An unscheduled inter-meeting interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Thursday delivered a boost to Indian shares, with the BSE Sensex touching a one-and-a-half-week high and the Nifty index rallying 2.2 percent to its highest level since December 8, 2014.

The Indian currency also gained 0.7 percent against the greenback; the rupee was quoted at a three-month high of 61.7600 late Thursday.

Read MoreRural India slowdown threatens hopes for better days

In the Philippines, the main Philippine Composite index continued to trade at all-time highs, as investors put their bets on large-cap stocks ahead of a long weekend. SM Investments, the country's largest firm by market value, bolstered 1.8 percent.

The Southeast Asian market will be shuttered on Thursday and Friday for a public holiday.

ASX loses 0.4%

Despite trimming losses following a better-than-expected jobs report, Australian equities were one of the laggards in Asia-Pacific on Thursday, with its key S&P ASX 200 index closing at a near one-week low and chalking up a four-session losing streak.

Big miners and financials were the key culprits behind the dismal performance; Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton slumped 2.4 and 1 percent, respectively. Iluka Resources sold off 2.6 percent after announcing a drop in 2014 revenue and a slow start to zircon sales in 2015, while Westpac Banking and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group led declines among the "Big 4" lenders.

The beaten-down energy sector got a rare lift from gains in crude prices, thereby capping losses on the bourse. Santos and Oil Search recouped early declines to close up 1.6 and 0.1 percent, respectively, while Liquefied Natural Gas leapt 12 percent.

The positive employment data also lifted the Australian dollar, which jumped 0.8 percent to buy $0.8212 against the U.S. dollar. For December, the Australian economy added 37,400 jobs, beating Reuters estimate for 3,800 jobs, after a robust 42,700 jobs in November. The unemployment rate stood at 6.1 percent, below expectations of 6.3 percent.

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Kospi flat

South Korean shares finished little changed amid choppy trade as index heavyweights eased, while the junior Kosdaq index extended gains to 1.3 percent.

Samsung Electronics was in focus after Blackberry denied earlier reports that it was in talks with the smartphone maker about a potential takeover and as its first Tizen phone goes on sale in India. The heaviest weighted stock on the Kospi index erased gains to recede 0.8 percent.

Steelmaker Posco and carmaker Hyundai Motor slumped 2.7 and 1.7 percent each.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Korea kept interest rates steady at 2 percent for a third straight month, in line with expectations, leaving the won flat at 1,082 against the U.S. dollar.