Asian stocks advanced amid choppy trade on Friday as traders looked ahead to the release of the closely-watched U.S. jobs report.
Trading volumes were light with most markets in the region including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong shuttered for the Easter holiday.
Overnight, U.S. stocks snapped a two-day losing streak to close up modestly on its last trading day of the week ahead of Friday's jobs data and as investors weighed news of a possible accord between Iran and major world powers.
Economists polled by Reuters expect the nonfarm payrolls report to be around 250,000 in March and the unemployment rate unchanged at a more-than six-and-a-half-year low of 5.5 percent.
The data is seen as a crucial indicator of when the U.S. central bank will begin raising interest rates. To be sure, some analysts expect a weaker-than-expected report that may delay the looming Federal Reserve rate hike.
"We'll probably see the headline number coming in around 220,000 and unemployment rate tick up [amid] a slow migration of people back into the labor force. The key thing to watch is the weekly earnings number, which won't be advancing faster than 2.2-2.3 percent year-on-year. That's good enough the keep this economy moving along, but not fast enough to spook the Fed," said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Advantage Funds.
Shanghai Comp up 1%
China's Shanghai Composite index finished higher after wavering between gains and losses amid concerns about liquidity, sparked by an approval of 30 initial public offerings (IPOs) late Thursday.
A marginal expansion in the services sector, according to the HSBC/Markit China Services purchasing managers' index (PMI) which inched up to 52.3 in March, probably lifted sentiment. The reading is a tick higher than February's 52.0 and above the 50-point level that demarcates growth from contracting.
Among gainers, Haitong Securities leaped 9.6 percent, while China Merchants Securities advanced 3.6 percent.
Big lenders turned higher in the afternoon session as the central bank revealed more details on China's newly-launched deposit insurance scheme. Bank of Communications and Agricultural Bank of China inched up 0.3 percent, respectively, while China Construction Bank and Bank of China rebounded 0.2 percent each.
In Shenzhen, shares of film producer Huayi Brothers Media soared nearly 4 percent after the firm announced a deal with Hollywood studio STX Entertainment.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong markets were closed on Friday and will remain off through Tuesday due to next week's Ching Ming Festival.
Nikkei gains 0.6%
Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed up, but gains were modest for the day as investors avoided taking large positions ahead of the U.S. jobs report due later in the day.
Among the most active stocks, index heavyweight Softbank sagged 0.4 percent, while financial plays like Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group dropped 0.2 and 0.6 percent each.
Seven & i Holdings lost 0.9 percent after its full-year operating profit forecast came in short of market expectations.
Blue-chips Canon and Mitsubishi Electric closed up 2.1 and 1.4 percent, respectively, while Sony extended gains to jump 3.4 percent after announcing plans to halve its stake in Olympus to raise funds for a restructuring drive.
Kospi adds 0.8%
South Korea's Kospi index rose, with brokerage houses providing support. Daewoo Securities and Samsung Securities rocketed 8.5 and 6.5 percent each as analysts bet on improved earnings in the first quarter.
Hyundai Motor and its smaller affiliate Kia Motors elevated 1.2 and 0.9 percent, respectively. Shares of Posco rallied nearly 2 percent, recovering from a more than six-year low hit on Wednesday, following news that Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway sold its entire stake in the steelmaker.
Rest of Asia
Bangkok's benchmark SET index edged up 0.1 percent, hovering near a more than one-week high clinched in the previous session, supported by news that the military government lifted the 10-month-old martial law on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese shares traded flat on Friday.