Chinese shares at new highs; Sydney lags on weak commodity prices

With the exception of Australia, Asian stock markets recovered from a lackluster open to rise on Monday, as a modestly positive lead from Wall Street offset the impact of sliding oil prices.

U.S. stocks snapped a four-day losing streak to settle mildly higher on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 closed up 0.2 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite finished 0.6 percent higher.

Symbol
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Price
 
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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 bourses hit new highs

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index clinched a fresh seven-year high as markets interpreted comments from Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People Bank's of China, over the weekend as indication of further stimulus. Zhou warned on Sunday that the world's second-largest economy needs to be vigilant for signs of deflation.

"[He] aired some concerns about the drop in China's growth rate and went on to add that the country has scope to respond without really clarifying what this means. This has been enough to see Chinese equities bid in a week where we have some key data due out of the country," Stan Shamu, IG's market strategist, wrote in a note.

Transport and financial stocks led gains; China Eastern Airlines bounced up 3.7 percent after delivering a 44 percent rise in 2014 profit. Lower crude oil prices also supported the sector, with China Southern Airlines and Air China up more than 5 percent, respectively.

Within the banking industry, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China finished 4.7 percent higher, while China Construction Bank and Bank of China closed up 3.3 percent each.

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In Hong Kong, Cnooc - China's main offshore oil-and-gas producer - climbed 3.6 percent on the back of a robust year-end profit.

Italian luxury fashion house Prada pared gains to slip 0.1 percent, hurt by a 28 percent drop in profit amid a slowdown in China. Barclays maintained its 'underweight' rating on the stock.

Meanwhile, the broader Hang Seng index leaped 1.5 percent to a four-week high.

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ASX falls 1.3%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index finished at a one-and-a-half-week low on the back of a heavily-hit resources sector due to sliding commodity prices. Among miners, Fortescue Metals lost 3.8 percent, while BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto dropped 2.1 and 1.2 percent each. The oil and gas industry also saw steep declines, with Santos down nearly 7 percent.

Caltex Australia led declines after U.S. energy giant Chevron sold its entire stake in the refiner for $3.7 billion. Shares of Caltex Australia plunged 9 percent.

Providing some relief to the bourse on Monday was copper and gold miner PanAust, which soared 40 percent following news that China's Guangdong Rising Assets Management approached it with a takeover bid for the third time.

Nikkei gains 0.7%

Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed up in choppy trade late Monday, recovering from initial losses induced by disappointing factory output data released before the market open. Industrial production dropped 3.4 percent in February from the previous month, marking the biggest drop since June last year. The result compared with expectations for a 1.8 percent decline and a 3.7 percent gain in January.

Among gainers, Fast Retailing, owner of clothes brand Uniqlo, piled on 2.7 percent, while industrial robot maker Fanuc elevated 1.1 percent.

As U.S. crude fell below $48.50 a barrel in early Asian trading, airlines such as ANA Holdings and Japan Airlines tacked on 1.4 and 0.1 percent, while oil-related counters JX Holdings, Showa Shell and Inpex made losses between 2 and 2.8 percent, respectively.

Mobile game developer Gumi dived 10 percent after announcing plans to sell assets and reduce its workforce by 10 percent last Friday.

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Kospi adds 0.5%

South Korea's benchmark Kospi index inched up steadily on Monday, as the advances of brokerage houses and some blue-ship stocks helped to offset losses in the energy space.

Daewoo Securities closed up 5.3 percent, while Samsung Securities and Mirae Asset Securities tacked on more than 4 percent each. The index's heaviest-weighted stock Samsung Electronics rebounded 0.5 percent, while utility Kepco and KB Financial Group advanced over 1 percent each.

Among losers, SK Innovation and S-Oil eased 2.6 and 1.1 percent, respectively. Dongkuk Steel tanked 6.5 percent as prosecutors launched an investigation into the steelmaker over allegations of large-scale embezzlement and tax evasion.

Meanwhile, revised government data on Sunday showed sales at the country's top department stores rose at the fastest annual pace in six months in February. However, the 6.6 percent gain was lesser than a previous estimation of 7.1 percent. Thus, retailers traded mixed, with Hyundai Department Store up 1 percent, while Lotte Shopping and Shinsegae sagged 0.6 and 0.3 percent each.