Asia Markets

Shanghai, Tokyo stocks outperform to hit multi-year highs

Asian stocks traded higher across the board on Wednesday, tracking the mixed finish on Wall Street overnight, with bourses in Japan and Shanghai closing at new multi-year highs.

Overnight, some U.S. stock indices finished lower, failing to hold momentum from Monday on the back of lackluster earnings. The blue-chip Dow and the S&P 500 closed down 0.5 and 0.2 percent each, while the Nasdaq bumped up 0.4 percent with biotech shares leading advances.

Nikkei rises 1.1%

Japan's Nikkei 225 index reclaimed the psychologically-important 20,000 mark to clinch a new 15-year late Wednesday, marking its first successful attempt since April 10.

Data showing a faster rise in March exports, which climbed 8.5 percent from a year earlier after a 2.5 percent gain in February, buoyed sentiment. While the value of imports tumbled 14.5 percent, worse than the 12.8 percent fall estimate, Japan still posted its first trade surplus in almost three years.

"Yen weakness... has resulted in Japan recording a bigger than expected surplus - its first surplus in three years. Little reaction has been seen in dollar-yen, but it seems the improvement in economics has been welcomed by equity bulls," Chris Weston, IG's chief market strategist, wrote in a note.

Financials and securities firms were among investors' favorites; Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group bolstered 3 and 3.8 percent each, while Sony Financial and Nomura Holdings jumped 6.7 and 4.5 percent, respectively.

In other news, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) may be planning to cut its inflation target to somewhere between 0.5 to 1 percent for fiscal 2015 at the upcoming meeting, due to the rout in oil prices and a slower-than-anticipated recovery in domestic demand, reported the Nikkei business daily.

Behind Nikkei's rise above 20,000 milestone

Mainland markets up

China's Shanghai Composite index closed up 2.5 percent to rewrite its highest trading level since February 2008 on the back of latest stimulus. Over the weekend, the People's Bank of China unveiled a 10-basis-point cut in the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) to prop up its faltering economy.

Among gainers, China Shipbuilding Industry surged 5.5 percent, while China State Construction Engineering advanced 2.8 percent.

The country's largest private bank China Minsheng Banking said first-quarter net profit rose 5.5 percent, leading its shares in Shanghai up 1.4 percent.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index notched up 0.4 percen to hit a more than one-week high.

Sunac China Holdings soared 11.7 percent to record highs after media reports said Kaisa Group's chairman denied blocking a deal to sell his family's 49.3 percent stake in the latter.

State-owned China Overseas Land & Investment elevated 4.5 percent, supported by a 4.5 percent on-year rise in first-quarter operating profit.

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ASX drops 0.6%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index widened losses after the release of first-quarter consumer prices, which was interpreted as dampening the case of a rate cut next month.

The country's consumer price index (CPI) matched Reuters expectations to rise 0.2 percent for the first three months of this year, bringing the annual rate to 1.3 percent. As a result, the Australian dollar fired up as high as $0.7766 against the U.S. dollar, while it moved further away from parity with the New Zealand dollar at 1.0110 from 1.0063 prior to the data release.

Seeing that interest rates may be on hold, banking stocks tumbled; National Australia Bank and Westpac plunged more than 1 percent each, while Australia & New Zealand Banking and Commonwealth Bank of Australia closed down 0.7 percent each.

BHP Billiton, which delivered its quarterly production report before the market open, and Rio Tinto closed down 1.1 and 0.5 percent each as iron ore prices held near decade-lows. Oil counters also traded lower in tandem with the fall in oil prices in Asian trade; Santos and Oil Search receded more than 1 percent, respectively.

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Kospi flat

South Korea's benchmark Kospi index gave up early gains and finished marginally below the flatline, well off the morning session's three-and-a-half-year highs.

Steelmaker Posco slumped 3.7 percent after missing expectations with a 20 percent on-year rise in first-quarter operating profit. Other index heavyweights were mostly lower; KB Financial Group and Hyundai Motor closed down 2 and 0.6 percent each.

Retail conglomerate Shinsegae charged up 7 percent after announcing on Tuesday that it plans to set up a new unit for duty-free shop operations. Shares of Kwangdong Pharmaceutical also jumped 5.5 percent to hit all-time highs on the back of rising sales of its "Vita 500" vitamin drink.

Noble Group updates

Singapore-listed Noble Group rose more than 1.0 percent after rebutting a report by Singapore's Business Times, which said that the company's founder and chairman "repeatedly dodged shareholders' queries" at its annual general meeting last Friday.

The Hong Kong-based commodities trader has been stung by a series of critical reports from unknown research firm Iceberg Research and U.S. short-seller Muddy Waters in recent months over its accounting practices.