Nikkei rises to 15-year high after strong export data

Japanese shares hit a fifteen-year high on Thursday following better-than-expected export data, while trade in the rest of Asia was quiet with several markets closed for Lunar New Year.

Markets in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were shut for the holiday.

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The release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's January meeting on Wednesday helped to lift sentiment in Asia. The minutes showed that the central bank will likely delay hiking interest rates to at least the second half of this year.

"The debate around rising rates continues and there is a clear understanding from the board as a whole that raising rates too soon would likely stifle the current growth trajectories...However, some are clearly concerned as waiting too long would likely lead to rampant inflation. The debate was left there and the consensus from the market is the doves are in control at the FOMC," said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG, in a note.

Meanwhile, traders also digested good news regarding Greece. The European Central Bank approved a 68 billion euro two-week extension on emergency liquidity for Greek banks, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The assistance comes as Greece tries to negotiate a financing deal with European partners or stick by the terms of its existing international bailout.

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CNBC 100

Nikkei 0.3% higher

Japan's benchmark Nikkei index closed at its highest level since May of 2000, just after the dot-com bust. The index extended gains from the previous day's 1 percent rally after data showed January exports rose 17 percent from a year earlier, well above estimates.

Banks were stronger, with Mizuho and Mitsubishi UFJ both 3.6 percent higher while Sumitomo Mitsui Financial jumped over 2 percent.

Sony rallied 1.6 percent after announcing that it aims to increase operating profit 25-fold within three years at its strategy meeting on Wednesday.

ASX slips 0.1%

Australian shares moved further away from a seven-year high hit on Wednesday as investors focused on the country's earnings season.

AMP jumped 2.5 percent after its annual net profit rose 32 percent, while Crown Resorts shot up 10 percent as investors cheered earnings growth at its Melbourne casino.

Wesfarmers dropped 1.5 percent after its first half net profit fell 3.7 percent from a year earlier.