Asian equities traded mixed on Monday, as an unexpectedly weak trade report from China over the weekend, along with a selloff in U.S. shares last Friday, depressed trading sentiment.
Mainland trade data announced on Sunday showed exports fell 3.3 percent from a year ago, while imports tumbled 19.9 percent, missing analysts' expectations. China is a key trading partner of many Asian countries like Australian and South Korea; markets in both countries traded lower in the morning session.
Meanwhile, U.S. stocks closed down last Friday amid continued concerns over Greece and a strong jobs report that renewed the possibility of an earlier Fed rate hike. For January, the Labor Department said the U.S. created 257,000 jobs, beating estimates of about 230,000. More importantly, average hourly earnings grew by 0.5 percent, above estimates.
Nikkei adds 0.4%
As a result, exporter stocks were mixed, with Sharp, Toyota Motor and Honda making gains between 0.9 and 4.4 percent, while electronics like Nikon and Sony receded 3.5 and 2.4 percent each. Automaker Nissan rallied 1.4 percent ahead of third-quarter earnings due later in the day.
Meanwhile, Japan's current account logged a surplus for a sixth straight month in December, data from the Ministry of Finance showed on Monday, helped by income from overseas investments and a narrowing trade gap due to a weak yen and lower oil prices.
Mainland indices mixed
The Shanghai Composite reversed early losses to move off a six-and-a-half-week low, up 0.6 percent as financials recovered from Friday's pullback following the launch of the country's first stock options.
The insurance stocks and brokerages were among the day's biggest winners; China Life Insurance piled on nearly 6 percent, while China Pacific Insurance and Ping An Insurance tacked on more than 2 percent each. Founder Securities and Haitong Securities advanced 5.9 and 4.3 percent.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong equities dropped 0.5 percent. Developers Sunac and Kaisa Group were in focus, with the former closing up 3.8 percent on its first day of trading after taking over the Shenzhen-based developer for HK$4.55 billion. Meanwhile, Kaisa rocketed nearly 20 percent on Monday.
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Australia's key index pared losses but remained in negative territory at the end of Monday, breaking a twelve-session winning streak. The Australian dollar shed 0.4 percent to trade at $0.7763 to the dollar.
The resources sector sold off following less-than-stellar Chinese data, with Fortescue Metals, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto making losses between 0.5 to 1.6 percent. Gold miners also languished; Newcrest Mining and junior producer Beadell Resources tanked 2.6 and 4.7 percent, respectively, following a more than 2 percent fall in gold prices last Friday.
Fairfax was the biggest loser, slumping nearly 9 percent, after reports that multi-billionaire shareholder Gina Rinehart has sold her stake in the media firm. Ansell outperformed the bourse to charge up 5.4 percent after the condom and latex glove maker posted a 35 percent jump in first half net profit.
In other news, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived a challenge to his leadership after his ruling Liberal party voted down an attempt to unseat him. A secret ballot to declare the positions of party leader and deputy leader vacant was voted down 61 votes to 39, according to a party official.
Kospi eases 0.4%
South Korean shares tracked Asia-wide losses to finish at a two-week low, with carmakers among the biggest losers. Hyundai Motor, the second-heaviest weighted stock on the Kospi index, and Kia Motors plunged 3.7 and 2.9 percent.