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Nikkei hits fresh 15-year high amid mixed trade in Asia

Japanese shares outperformed the region by clinching a new multi-year high, as the rest of Asia traded mixed on Thursday, following a flat finish on Wall Street overnight.

Overnight, U.S. stocks closed mixed after struggling to stay positive amid firming oil prices, moderate housing data and debate over Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's congressional testimony. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 traded up 0.1 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite broke a nine-day winning streak to finish flat.

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 adds 1.1%

Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed at a fresh 15-year high of 18,785 - its fourth multi-year high over the past five trading sessions - despite dollar-yen retreating back into the 118 territory.

Index heavyweights helped to lead the bourse higher; Softbank and Fast Retailing climbed 1.7 and 2.4 percent each, while robot maker Fanuc pared losses to tick up 0.1 percent.

Financials extended their rally on the back of news that Japan's Financial Services Agency could give bank groups the freedom to expand into areas like e-commerce. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group ratcheted up 3.2 and 1.9 percent each.

Meanwhile, Koji Ishida, member of the Policy Board of the Bank of Japan, said on Thursday the central bank should not ease monetary policy further just to hit its inflation target. Japanese markets will also digest news that the Diet on Wednesday approved the appointment of Waseda University economics professor Yutaka Harada to the BOJ's Policy Board. Harada, 64, is a proponent of reflationary policies and is expected to support the BOJ's goal of achieving 2 percent inflation.

Read MoreIs the Nikkei in for a pull back?

ASX slips 0.6%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index retreated further from a seven-year high attained earlier this week as its heavyweight banking sector came under pressure. Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia tumbled 0.5 percent, while National Australia Bank and Australia and New Zealand Banking closed down 0.4 percent each.

Among miners, Fortescue Metals lagged behind other big miners by trading flat, while junior miners such as Atlas Iron, BC Iron and Mount Gibson slumped between 2 to 5 percent.

Qantas soared 1.4 percent to its highest level since April 2010, despite pulling back from a 5 percent rise after delivering its best first-half profit in four years. Among other firms releasing their corporate earnings, Japara Healthcare and Nine Entertainment shot up 7.3 and 9.4 percent each.

Transfield services plummeted 6.4 percent as its first-half earnings fell short of market consensus.

On the domestic data front, business investment fell more than expected in the fourth-quarter, while companies' spending plans were slightly weaker than anticipated, according to government data.

Mainland indices choppy

China's Shanghai Composite index erased early losses to rebound 2.2 percent, hitting a four-week high, on the back of rallying financial and property majors.

Banking stocks like China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of China pulled in more than 2 percent gains, respectively. Brokerages reversed earlier steep losses, with Citic Securities and Haitong Securities advancing more than 4 percent each. Property majors also contributed to the rally; China Merchants Property and Poly Real Estate elevated 4.4 and 5.5 percent, respectively.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index snapped a four-session losing streak with gains of 0.5 percent. Focus remained on HSBC, which finished 0.2 percent lower, after CEO Stuart Gulliver and Chairman Douglas Flint apologized for the bank's shortcomings overnight.

Gaming stocks remained dismal on news that the Macau government plans to impose a limit to the number of mainland tourists that visit the city; Sands China receded 3 and Melco Crown fell 2.7 percent. SJM Holdings eased 0.4 percent after posting a 12.7 percent drop in its 2014 net profit.

Kospi ticks up 0.1%

South Korea's Kospi index settled at a three-month low late Thursday. For the day, markets were focused on news that retailer Shinsegae is interesting in acquiring a majority stake in Kumho Industrial, which holds a 30.1 percent stake in the country's second-largest flagship carrier Asiana Airlines. Shares of Shinsegae pared gains to ease 0.3 percent, while Kumho Industrial charged up 15 percent.

Read MoreCan sports re-energize Singapore's tourism?

Rest of Asia

Across Asia, corporate earnings were a key theme. Late on Thursday Singapore-listed commodities trader Noble Group unexpectedly reported its first quarterly loss in three years due to asset write-downs.

Iceberg Research issued a fresh report early Thursday, claiming that the Hong Kong-based Noble Group overstated the value of commodities it holds by at least $3.8 billion, which the latter has refuted. Since Iceberg's first negative report on Febuary 15, shares of the commodities trader have been in a tailspin, falling a combined 13 percent in the first two sessions following the allegations. On early Thursday, Noble Group's shares were halted ahead of its fourth-quarter results.

The broader Straits Times index, meanwhile, slipped 0.4 percent.

Attention also fell on a Reuters report saying that Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew remains on mechanical ventilation in an intensive care unit in hospital, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's office. The 91-year-old, who has been widely credited with the city-state's economic success, was admitted to hospital on February 5 with severe pneumonia.

Elsewhere, Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia posted its first net loss in two years amid heavy foreign-exchange losses and higher financing and operating costs.

The budget airline said it was recovering from a slight loss in demand after the December plane crash that cost the lives of the 162 people on board a flight bound for Singapore.

AirAsia shares closed 1.5 percent higher, outpacing a gain of almost 0.3 percent in Malaysia's FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI.