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Asian shares rise on firmer oil prices, rate cut hopes

Asian shares rose on Thursday, undeterred by a weaker finish in the U.S. as gains in crude prices overnight boosted oil-related counters.

All three U.S. indexes closed 0.4 percent lower on Wednesday as investors reacted to soft economic data ahead of Friday's crucial nonfarm payrolls report. Earlier in the trading session, the ADP employment report for March showed an increase of 189,000 in monthly private payrolls, below expectations of around 225,000.

"[Asian markets are shrugging off the lead from U.S. because] the weaker the data, the more likely the Fed will delay or make a small rate hike. Plus, Europe had some strong manufacturing data last night," said Mark Matthews, head of Research Asia at Bank Julius Baer, referring to the euro zone's manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) which hit a 10-month high last month.

"What we are seeing now is not just Europe exiting recession, it's seeing a powerful upturn," he told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia."

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Name
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 indices up

China's Shanghai Composite index finished at a fresh multi-year high of 3,826 points amid choppy trade, with sentiment boosted by news that Beijing is expanding the investment scope of the country's social security fund.

Among the most active stocks, Agricultural Bank of China eased 0.8 percent and China Everbright Bank dropped 0.6 percent.

In Hong Kong, Chinese property developer Country Garden said it sold new shares to a subsidiary of Ping An Insurance for HK$6.3 billion. Shares of both firms bolstered 10.9 and 2.4 percent each.

Meanwhile, Macau casino plays were dismal after data showed gambling revenue in the Chinese territory plummeted 39 percent in March, marking the tenth consecutive monthly fall. Galaxy Entertainment and Sands China closed down 0.4 percent each.

The broader Hang Seng index rose 0.8 percent to a 4-month high.

ASX rises 0.7%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index closed up as traders took positions in financial plays ahead of the Reserve Bank of Australia's policy meeting next week. The big four lenders were buoyant, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia leading gains by 1.2 percent.

QBE Insurance Group jumped 5 percent after announcing that it is considering to increase its dividends.

A rise in oil prices overnight also put some color back into heavily-hit energy counters. Liquified Natural Gas rallied 8 percent, while Origin Energy and Oil Search climbed 1.2 percent each.

However, iron ore miners extended losses amid the collapse of iron ore prices below $50 a tonne. Fortescue Metals tanked 4 percent, while BC Iron is in the spotlight after receiving assistance from the Western Australian government who delayed 50 percent of the group's iron ore royalties.

"This means junior materials plays are well and truly on their knees and are at breaking points. Most are well and truly under water on a per tonne basis and will have to close doors sooner or later," wrote Evan Lucas, IG's market strategist. BC Iron lost 4.2 percent and Atlas Iron slumped 7.8 percent.

However, shares of Bradken surged 18 percent as the mining services group confirmed early Thursday that Pacific Equity Partners and Koch Industries lobbed an unsolicited indicative non-binding $2.50-a-share proposal for the company yesterday. Bradken said the proposal has been determined as not fair value.

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Nikkei up 1.5%

Japan's Nikkei 225 index widened gains amid a broad-based rally, recouping all of Wednesday's losses.

Among gainers, oil plays like JX Holdings and Showa Shell elevated nearly 1 percent each. Banking counters were higher after the selloff in previous sessions; Resona Holdings and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group rallied over 3 percent each, while Mizuho Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group gained 1.8 and 2 percent, respectively.

Carmakers were also in focus following the release of latest sales data. Toyota Motor edged up 1.7 percent after delivering a 4.9 percent rise in U.S. sales last month. Nissan and Honda also rose 2 and 1.7 percent each despite posting declines in its North American sales.

Bucking the uptrend was Olympus, down 4 percent, after Sony halved its stake in the camera and endoscope maker to raise funds for a restructuring drive.

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Kospi flat

South Korea's Kospi index trimmed gains as Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors retreated back to the flatline. The two carmakers were up nearly 1 percent earlier in the session following data that showed a 1.5 percent increase in car sales for March.

Refiners led the charge among gainers; SK Innovation and S-Oil leaped 1.5 and 0.5 percent each as analysts bet on improved earnings in the first quarter. "While the firms saw red in the fourth quarter when oil prices nearly halved, they are expected to swing to the black in the first three months of this year as losses from crude inventories narrow," said analysts from Seoul-based SK Securities.

On the domestic data front, South Korea's current account surplus hit a record high for the second consecutive month in February, hitting a seasonally adjusted figure of $10.77 billion, according to data from Bank of Korea.