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Asian stock markets traded mixed on Thursday, as euro zone finance ministers failed to reach a deal with Greece, while a mixed finish on Wall Street and losses in oil prices overnight capped sentiment. However, Tokyo markets, which were closed yesterday for a public holiday, rallied to a two-month high on the back of a weak local currency.
"Global markets seem to be in uncharted waters right now with significant uncertainty from Greece. As a result, it seems caution is warranted and investors are happy to take some profits off the table as markets consolidate," Stan Shamu, IG market strategist, wrote in a note.
Oil came under pressure on Wednesday, due to an industry report saying U.S. crude stocks rose from a record high. U.S. crude settled down 2.4 percent at $48.84 a barrel, while Brent crude futures were down $3 to $54.80 a barrel.
Nikkei rallies 1.9%
Better-than-expected core machinery orders for December also lifted risk appetite. The highly volatile data series regarded as an indicator of capital spending rose 8.3 percent in December from the previous month, much higher than the 2.4 percent increase forecast by economists and followed a 1.3 percent rise in November.
"Core machinery orders was a big positive surprise, but with it being volatile, traders shouldn't read too much into it," Joshua Crabb, head of Asian Equities at Old Mutual Global Investor, told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia. " "[Recent] inflation numbers coming in lower than expectations have people believe that we might see greater policy response in Japan and that's why markets are a bit more optimistic today."
Fanuc climbed 6.2 percent, adding to a more than 3 percent rise on Wednesday, after hedge-fund firm Third Point said it had acquired a stake and urged the robot maker to buy back stock. Bucking the upward trend, Softbank shed 0.5 percent after reporting a 16 percent drop in operating profit for the nine-month period through December.
Shanghai Comp rebounds
China's Shanghai Composite index rebounded 0.5 percent in the afternoon session following fresh moves by the central bank to improve short-term liquidity.
Shipping stocks mostly recovered from the morning sell-off. Domestic ship carriers like China Shipping Development and Cosco Shipping closed up 1.8 and 1 percent each, after being sold off on the back of rule amendments by authorities regarding ships it will allow to berth at mainland ports.
However, a lackluster financial sector limited gains on the bourse. Citic Securities and Haitong Securities slumped over 1 percent, respectively. Agricultural Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Bank of Communications closed down 0.3 percent each.
Meanwhile, shares of ZTE Corporation finished 0.6 percent lower in Shenzhen after the telecommunications provider applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine five patents of Nasdaq-listed Vringo and its subsidiaries.
ASX sheds 0.4%
Australia's S&P ASX 200 pared early gains to finish lower for the fourth straight session on the back of a mixed resources sector and as markets reacted to a slew of earnings reports.
Oil and gas explorer Santos lost 1.6 percent, hit by a double whammy of lower energy prices and news that it is taking a $1.6 billion impairment charge on a string of production and exploration assets after factoring in the impact plunging oil prices. Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search tanked 0.9 and 0.3 percent each.
Australia's largest telecommunications company Telstra and real estate firm Mirvac erased gains to slip 0.6 percent and finish flat, respectively, despite reporting a 22.4 and 13.4 percent jump in half-year profit. Improved first half profit growth also failed to lift shares of ASX, which sagged 1.2 percent.
The Australian dollar fell 0.9 percent to a one-week low of $0.7647 to the dollar after employment figures showed the economy lost 12,200 jobs in January and the employment rate rose to 6.4 percent. Economists polled by Reuters expected the addition of 5,000 jobs and an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent.
Kospi slips 0.2%
South Korea's Kospi index edged down to a more than two-week low as energy-related stocks and index heavyweights turned negative. Hyundai Motor led declines with a 1.3 percent slump, while Posco, Samsung Electronics and KB Financial Group closed down nearly 1 percent each.
Oil-related counters were hit by the plunge in oil prices overnight; SK Innovation and S-oil receded more than 3 percent each, while petrochemical stock LG Chem traded 1.6 percent lower. LG Display outperformed the bourse to rise 2.4 percent on news that it plans to invest between 1 and 1.2 trillion won this year to add capacity in an existing large-panel OLED production line.
Emerging Asia in focus
Malaysia's FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI index sagged 0.5 percent, while the ringgit languished near six-year lows against the U.S. dollar, despite data showed the country expanding at a faster-than-expected 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier. This followed a 5.6 percent in the third quarter amid falling oil prices and a sluggish global demand.
In Taiwan, Apple's suppliers rose on the iPhone maker's share-price strength. Pegatron rallied 3.8 percent, while and Catcher closed up more than 1 percent, outpacing the Taiex benchmark's rise of 0.4 percent.