Japanese stocks meandered between gains and losses on the first trading day of the week as investors booked profits on the market's recent run-up. Last Friday, the benchmark index crossed the psychological 20,000 level for the first time since April 2000 on Friday, but quickly pulled back on the back of profit-taking.
Carmakers were among the biggest laggards; Nissan and Honda Motor lost 1.3 and 2.5 percent, respectively, and Toyota Motor receded 0.9 percent after scaling a record high last month.
Released just minutes before the market open, core machinery orders, a leading indicator of capital spending, dropped 0.4 percent in February, much lesser than the median estimate of a 2.8 percent fall in a Reuters poll. However, the better-than-expected data did little to boost sentiment.
Meanwhile, minutes of the Bank of Japan's previous policy meeting show policymakers agreeing that the country's economy remains in a "moderate recovery trend."
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ASX slips 0.1%
Lingering worries about the impact of plunging iron ore prices weighed down Australia's S&P ASX 200 index, after UBS revised down its forecast for iron ore prices to $55 a tonne - a downgrade of 27 percent from its initial estimate of $75 a tonne.
Major miners Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals and BHP Billiton lost over 2 percent each. Also weighing on sentiment was news that junior player Atlas Iron will be shutting its mining operations over the next few weeks.
Shares of Seven Group tanked 5.6 percent, stung by the retirement news of its CEO Don Voelte.
However, gains in the financial, as well as oil and gas plays, helped to curb the bourse's decline. Santos and Oil Search climbed nearly2 percent each, while Macquarie Group advanced 1 percent.
The outperformer for the day was Mesoblast, which soared 24.3 percent after U.S.-based Celgene snapped up a stake in the regenerative medicine company.