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Shanghai shares lead gains to end at fresh 7-year high

Asia's equity markets joined their global peers to rise on Thursday, with China's Shanghai Composite index finishing at a fresh multi-year high.

U.S. stocks underpinned the buoyant mood by settling higher overnight amid gains in oil and gas plays and as investors continued to digest first-quarter financial earnings from corporate America.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 closed up 0.4 and 0.5 percent each, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq added 0.7 percent to close above the psychologically key 5,000-point level.

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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Mainland markets up

Volatility remains a key theme in the mainland, with the Shanghai Composite reversing a lackluster open to charge up 2.7 percent, scaling a fresh 7-year high of 4,194. Among the most active stocks were China Shipbuilding Industry and Agricultural Bank of China, which leaped 10 and 1.5 percent, respectively.

In the previous session, the key stock index gave up 1.3 percent as relief that the Asian economic giant had matched its own growth target was offset by dismal readings on industrial activity. "Yesterday's data suggest further stimulus as [previous easing] have not been enough to stop the decline," Evan Lucas, IG's market strategist, wrote in a note.

Thus, stimulus bets helped to offset worries from the authorities about the levels of margin trading. Early Thursday, equity investors were urged to stay "rational and clam" by the chairman of China's securities regulator.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index erase losses to notch up 0.4 percent late Thursday. Galaxy Entertainment was one of the day's outperformers, up nearly 4 percent, despite announcing a 40 percent fall in first-quarter earnings on Thursday.

Analysts expect the rally in the mainland markets to continue. "[The rally] is liquidity-driven... given that the Chinese government still appears to be quite supportive of the markets, there will be moderate upside even from these levels," David Cui, head of China equity strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box."

ASX gains 0.7%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index came off yesterday's one-week closing low, buoyed by rises offshore and as the economy added a surprisingly strong number of jobs in March.

The country created 37,700 jobs, above expectations for a 15,000 increase, with the rise made up of a 31,500 increase in full-time employment. That brought the unemployment rate down to 6.1 percent, below expectations of 6.3 percent. That drove the Australian dollar up as high as $0.7770 against the U.S. dollar, marking a more than two-week high.

Oil-related counters cheered news that crude oil prices closed at their highest level of the year on Wednesday. Santos jumped 2.7 percent, while Oil Search and Origin Energy advanced over 2 percent each.

On the corporate news front, Telstra said Thursday it has completed the acquisition of Pacnet, Asia's biggest private owner of submarine communication cables. As a result, the telecoms giant closed up 0.7 percent.

Fortescue Metals jumped nearly 6 percent as its third-quarter production report indicated that it is still operating in the black despite a plunge in iron ore prices. Other miners such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto above the flatline as well, seemingly unaffected by the downgrade to "neutral" and "sell" ratings by Goldman Sachs. Goldman expects the price of iron ore to plummet to $45, from current levels of $50 a tonne, which will "significantly impair" the miners' cashflow, earnings and target prices.

Nikkei flat

Japanese shares ended virtually unchanged, recouping losses after touching their lowest levels since April 8 earlier in the session. Japan's Nikkei 225 index has seen directionless trading after breaching the psychologically-important 20,000-point level last week, due to profit-taking and China's GDP data released Wednesday.

Toyota Motor, which was in focus for its expansion plans in Mexico and China's Guangzhou city, drifted up 0.4 percent. Export-oriented stocks were mixed, succumbing to the pressure from a stronger currency. Sony tanked 2.3 percent, while Nissan and Canon nursed losses of 0.3 and 0.5 percent each.

Sharp climbed 4.5 percent on the back of news that the loss-making electronics giant could reach a broad agreement on restructuring with its lenders as early as Thursday, Reuters said. Oil plays also helped to limit the bourse's decline; Inpex and JX Holdings bolstered 5.4 and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Read MoreOECD urges Japan to keep an eye on QE

Kospi rises 0.9%

South Korea's benchmark Kospi index shot up nearly 1 percent to finish at a three-and-a-half-year high as strong offshore buying helped the bourse to chalk up a five-day winning streak.

Shares of Samsung Group are in focus after the company denied reports that chairman Lee Kun-hee's health has deteriorated. Samsung Electronics rallied 2.1 percent, while the IT solution arm Samsung SDS elevated 1.7 percent on news that it is aiming to almost triple its annual sales to 20 trillion won by 2020 by expanding its mainstay IT-outsourcing business.

Retail conglomerate Lotte said Wednesday that it has withdrawn its bid to buy Italian duty-free company Italian World Duty Free (WDF). Lotte Shopping threw away gains to settle down 0.2 percent.

Shinhan Financial Group closed up nearly 2 percent after its affiliate Shinhan Bank received regulatory approval to buy 40 percent of Indonesia's Bank Metro Express.

Read MoreForget China, this market is Asia's sweet spot

Rest of Asia

Most Southeast Asian stock markets edged up, with the exception of Singapore and India.

The former trimmed losses to end the day down 0.24 percent, from an intra-day high of 3,549 - the index's highest level since December 2007.

The decline appeared attributable to a sharp decline in shares of Singapore Exchange, which closed down 1.6 percent after the bourse operator denied speculation that a stock link-up modeled after the Shanghai-Hong Kong stock connect could be in the works for Singapore.

"SGX is not currently in the process of establishing such a link, but remains open to future collaborations which benefit our partners and shareholders," the exchange said in a statement.

In Manilla, the Philippine Stock Exchange index (PSEi) bounced back from the previous day's sharp falls to close 0.5 percent higher. According to data from the stock exchange, the benchmark index saw net foreign outflow of $33.35 million in the previous session.

Meanwhile, India's Nifty and BSE Sensex index touched one-week lows, led by losses in heavyweight components like Wipro, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services.