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Asian equities hit new highs on European QE

Asian equity markets posted an upbeat performance on the final trading day of the week, tracking a global rally after the European Central Bank (ECB) unleashed a 1 trillion euro ($1.11 trillion) stimulus package to resuscitate the deflation-hit euro zone.

"The ECB has set the ticker boards alight across the globe with investors responding favorably to another central bank deploying more stimulus," Stan Shamu, IG market strategist, wrote in a note. "Having disappointed on a number of occasions in the past, it was important for [governor] Mario Draghi to get it right this time."

Overnight, U.S. stocks extended gains into a fourth session, on the back of the ECB's larger-than-expected easing measures and upbeat quarterly earnings from companies including Southwest Airlines. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 gained 1.5 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq piled on 1.8 percent.

In Europe, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 closed 1.6 percent higher - its highest closing level since early 2008 - on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Markets also digested news that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has died early Friday, making his brother Salman king of the oil-rich nation. U.S. crude jumped nearly 2 percent to $47.15 a barrel in early Asian trade after the news broke, while Brent gained 1.9 percent to hit $49.43 a barrel.

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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Mainland indices up

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index closed up 0.3 percent, after backing down from a one-week high to slip briefly into negative territory in the last hour of trading. Earlier in the day, markets received a better-than-anticipated HSBC flash China's purchasing managers' index (PMI). The flash reading came in at 49.8, after registering a 49.6 final reading in December, its first contraction in seven months.

Insurance stocks China Life Insurance and China Pacific Insurance were among the top gainers for the third consecutive session; shares of both companies bounced up 3 and 9 percent, respectively. Ping An Insurance recouped Thursday's losses with a nearly 2 percent rise.

Haitong Securities elevated 1.8 percent after it announced a positive earnings alert for 2014.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index held steady at a more than 4-month high after jumping 1.3 percent. Shares of Hutchison Whampoa is in focus after being halted from trading in Hong Kong on news that the company is nearing a deal to buy U.K. mobile phone operator O2.

Nikkei rises 1.1%

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 held on to a near three-week high, despite the yen strengthening slightly to touch 118.3 in the afternoon session.

Exporters stocks pulled back modestly as a result of a stronger currency; Toyota Motor climbed 1.3 percent, while Suzuki Motor and Honda added 1.6 and 0.9 percent each. Oil-related counters turned mixed despite the spike in crude oil prices, with JX Holdings closing up 0.1 percent and Showa Shell erasing early gains to drop 0.3 percent.

Index heavyweights provided some support for the bourse, as Softbank and Fast Retailing tacked on 4 and 0.9 percent, respectively.

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ASX climbs 1.5%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index rocketed to a more than two-month high ahead of a long weekend, while the Australian dollar hovered near a multi-year low of $0.7989 to the dollar, after briefly rising to hit $0.8049 following an above-view preliminary gauge of Chinese manufacturing activities. Markets in down under will be closed on Monday for the Australia Day holiday.

The energy sector is in focus on the back of sharp moves in the price of crude oil; Oil Search and Woodside Petroleum shot up 3.3 and 2.3 percent each, while Santos bolstered 5.1 percent after it reported a 2 percent rise in fourth quarter revenue.

Miners were also firmer despite overnight weakness in iron ore prices. BHP Billiton led the sector with a 1.9 percent gain, while Rio Tinto closed up 0.6 percent.

EM Asia up

India's Nifty index trimmed gains to 0.7 percent but remained at record highs, as investors lapped up the launch of stimulus in the euro zone.

Thailand shares are in focus on Friday, as the country's National Legislative Assembly votes in an impeachment hearing against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, following a controversial rice-pledging program. The benchmark SET index was up 1.5 percent to a more than 6-week high, while the baht traded little moved at 32.60 to the dollar.

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Kospi up 0.8%

South Korean shares retreated from a four-week high late Friday, as index heavyweights pulled back. Samsung Electronics, the heaviest weighted stock on the Kospi, added 0.6 percent, while Hyundai Motor trimmed gains to close flat. Energy plays got a rare lift, with LG Chem rising 1 percent and S-Oil inching up 0.5 percent.

Kia Motors bucked the rising trend to notch down nearly 2 percent, after it reported a 54 percent dive in fourth quarter net profit, missing analyst estimates.

Meanwhile, data showed the nation expanding slightly less than expected in the three months to December. South Korea expanded 2.7 percent on year in the fourth quarter, just below expectations for a 2.8 percent increase in a Reuters poll.