Asia Markets

Shanghai stocks end week at new 7-year high; rest of Asia mixed

Asian equities traded mixed on Friday as a soft finish on Wall Street soured sentiment, but China's Shanghai Composite index continued its bull run to clinch a new multi-year high.

The major U.S. indices settled marginally lower on Thursday, hurt by lingering worries about upcoming earnings reports. "The benign data reads in the U.S. saw a flat finish on Wall Street. This trading momentum is likely to translate into the final day's trade of the week in Asia," Evan Lucas, IG's market strategist, wrote in a note.

Mainland markets up

The Shanghai bourse closed up 2.2 percent to rewrite its highest level since March 2008 as bets of further stimulus continued to buoy risk appetite.

Despite China's gross domestic product (GDP) for the first three months of 2015 hitting a multi-year low, economics will unlikely derail the rally in the near term. "Certainly, many are questioning how much further markets can go without economics. In the short-term, however, I am not sure economics matter too much given we should see further easing measures from the People's Bank of China (PBoC)," Chris Weston, IG's chief market strategist, said.

Bargain hunting among large Chinese companies, where investors believe had further gains in store compared with small-cap stocks, also accelerated the rally. Train makers China CNR and CSR jumped by the daily maximum allowable 10 percent each, while shipbuilding conglomerate China Shipbuilding Industry settled up by the same margin.

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group also rose by the daily limit to hit record highs in Shanghai, while leaping 16 percent in Hong Kong, after it announced plans to raise up to 5.8 billion in a private placement of shares.

Property counters rose ahead of the house price data due at 9.30 am local time on Saturday. China Vanke and Poly Real Estate bounced up over 2 percent each.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index pared gains to trade flat in the afternoon session.

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Nikkei falls 1.2%

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell to a more than one-week low as investors took a wait-and-see stance ahead of earnings reports from major Japanese corporates next week. The Tokyo bourse has seen directionless trading for most of the week after it breached the psychologically-important 20,000-point level for the first time since April 2000 last Friday.

Laggards in Friday's session include index heavyweights Fanuc and Fast Retailing, which sagged nearly 2 percent each, contributing significant downward pressure on the bourse.

Sharp slumped 5.8 percent, reversing a higher open where it touched a four-month high following news that it clinched its second major bailout in three years. The loss-making electronics giant clinched a $1.7 billion bailout deal from Mizuho Bank and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in return for a promise to cut 5,000 jobs and split off its ailing smartphone display unit, Reuters reported late Thursday. Shares of Mizuho Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, the parent companies of Sharp's lenders, escaped the broader market sell-off, up 0.9 and 2.1 percent each.

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ASX loses 1.2.%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index tumbled to a two-week low, losing 1.5 percent for the week, following another fall in the price of the all-important iron ore and as the banking sector moved south.

Fortescue Metals plunged 4.4 percent, while BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto lost 0.9 and 1.4 percent, respectively. On Thursday, Goldman Sachs downgraded its ratings on Australia's miners, revising Fortescue Metals and Rio Tinto to "sell" ratings as it forecasts the price of iron ore to plummet to $45, from current levels of $50 a tonne.

However, overnight gains in crude oil prices provided some positive support. Santos advanced 0.4 percent on the back of a well-received first-quarter production report, while Oil Search elevated 0.5 percent.

The country's second-largest power retailer AGL Energy, which said on Friday it would not buy any more coal-fired power stations, closed down 0.6 percent.

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Kospi adds 0.2%

After a fairly muted morning session, South Korea's benchmark Kospi index eked out a marginal gain later in the day to chalk up a six-day winning streak. For the week, the Seoul bourse gained 2.3 percent.

Carmakers traded on the plus side; Hyundai Motor and and its smaller affiliate Kia Motors notched up 0.6 and 1.6 percent each after posting record monthly sales in Europe last month.

Shinhan Financial Group added 0.9 percent, after rallying 2 percent in the previous session, on news that its affiliate Shinhan Bank received regulatory approval to buy 40 percent of Indonesia's Bank Metro Express.

However, brokerage houses met with profit-taking following the sector's recent run-up. Hyundai Securities and Mirae Asset Securities closed down 2 and 4 percent, respectively.