Shanghai shares hogged the spotlight on Friday, as the key Shanghai Composite index extended losses to finish at a one-week low. Meanwhile Japan's Nikkei 225 was the "quiet achiever" for the day, according to experts, after eking out marginal gains to clinch a fresh 15-year peak.
Overnight, U.S. stocks stepped slightly into negative terrain following a 6.5 percent plunge in Chinese shares and amid a lack of resolution on Greek debt talks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite shed 0.2 percent each, while the S&P 500 ticked down 0.1 percent.
Mainland markets mixed
After a day of choppy trade, mainland equities eventually settled down 0.15 percent, while the CSI 300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen inched up 0.14 percent.
Earlier in the day, the Shanghai bourse fell as much as 4.1 percent before turning positive briefly by mid-day. In the previous session, the Shanghai Composite nosedived 6.5 percent, marking its biggest one-day loss since January 19, on the back of news that more Chinese brokerages are tightening margin lending rules, spurring fears that the retail investor-driven rally may be coming to an end. Investors also took profit ahead of next week's tranche of new share-listings.
Reporting on the dramatic plunge Thursday, state media Xinhua News Agency said the fall "was reasonable and market volatility remains normal."
"The Chinese market has been exuberant to a frightening degree and one of the concerns about that is, it is entirely based on monetary stimulus and not underlying economic fundamentals," Michael Jones, chief investment officer & chairman of Riverfront Investment Group, told CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box" on Friday.
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To be sure, there are analysts who remain bullish on the world-beating index, which has risen 42.65 percent year-to-date and 3.87 percent for this month.
"First, a 6.5 percent one-day fall is not unusual for China. Second, the huge gain in Chinese shares over the last year has only unwound dirt cheap valuations with the forward price-to- earnings ratio rising from around 8 times to around 17 times which is around Australian and U.S. levels, but below its long term average. Chinese shares are a long way from being overvalued," Shane Oliver, head of Investment Strategy & chief economist at AMP Capital, said. "Finally, thePeople's Bank of China's moves in the last week look like normal liquidity management with further monetary easing likely. So we see this as just another correction in an ongoing Chinese bull market."
Meanwhile, state-run Central Huijin Investment said on Thursday it has reduced its shares in Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Shares of the former dropped 0.4 percent, while the latter ticked up 0.2 percent.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng succumbed to selling pressure at the close; the index ticked down 0.1 percent after seeing marginal gains earlier in the session.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index finished just a tad above the previous day's close to clinch a fresh 15-year closing high. While movements in the dollar-yen limited the bourse's advance, the Tokyo index has chalked up a eleven-session winning streak, its longest since February 1988, and bolstered 5.39 percent for the month of May.
"Japan has been the quiet achiever in Asia with the Nikkei remaining at 15-year highs. The recent gains in the greenback have been the pinnacle of the rally... while data in Japan also showed signs of bottoming and clearly the weaker yen is starting to work for the economy," Stan Shamu, IG's market strategist, wrote.
Government data released before the market open showed the closely-watched consumer price index (CPI) rose 0.3 percent on-year in April, slightly ahead of forecasts for 0.2 percent from a Reuters poll, but markedly lower than the rise of 2.2 percent in March.
However, household spending fell 1.3 percent on-year in April, disappointing expectations for a 3.1 percent increase from a Reuters poll. As of 1530 SIN/HK, the Japanese yen moved away from an intra-day high of 123.58 and fell back to 123.90 against the U.S. dollar.
Mizuho Financial extended robust gains to close up 1.3 percent, helped by hopes that it may announce a share buyback. According to Reuters, its stock price has risen nearly 20 percent this month.
ASX rises 1.1%
Australia's S&P ASX 200 index led gains in the region to finish at a more than three-week high. Analysts attribute the broad-based rally to a confluence of factors such as a weaker Australian dollar and the trend of month-end buying.
"[The market rose] despite no major stock-specific catalysts. Perhaps the yield story came into sharper focus [after] this week's soft data and a lower Aussie dollar has enticed some offshore-domiciled investors back into our equity market," analysts from Patersons Securities wrote in a note.
Banking shares attracted hefty buy orders after several sessions of lackluster trading. National Australia Bank was the top gainer with a 2.6 percent rise, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia and New Zealand Banking and Westpac rallied over 1 percent each.
Underperforming the bourse, Alchemia slumped 52 percent to record lows following an update on its quarterly profit. Shares of the drug developer were on trading halt since May 22 pending an announcement regarding its profit share on the sales of fondaparinux. Fondaparinux is an anti-coagulant generic drug sold by India's Dr.Reddy's Laboratories.
The Sydney index shed 0.22 percent for May.
Kospi adds 0.2%
South Korea's Kospi index edged up on Friday, as heavyweight components largely advanced. For the month, the Seoul bourse shed 0.92 percent.
Steelmaker Posco and Hyundai Motor closed up 1.7 and 1.3 percent, respectively, while SK Hynix extended gains into a fourth straight session, up 2.9 percent following an upgrade in its credit rating from A+ to AA- on Thursday.
The country's three main telecom operators were stung by news that the government plans to select a fourth telecom carrier within the year. Shares of SK Telecom and KT Corporation plummeted 3.3 and 2.5 percent, while LG Uplus shed 0.5 percent.
Meanwhile, Hyundai Steel Co. and its affiliate Hyundai Hysco climbed 1.9 and 1 percent, respectively, after news that a proposed merger deal between the two has been approved.
On the domestic data front, industrial output fell by a seasonally adjusted 1.2 percent in April, marking its fastest pace of decline since January, following a revised 0.3 percent drop in March.
Rest of Asia
India's S&P BSE Sensex and the 50-share Nifty index widened gains to charge up more than 1 percent ahead of the release of first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) later in the day. Meanwhile, the last traded at 63.74 against the greenback.
The third-biggest economy in Asia could expand 7.3 percent in the final quarter of the current fiscal year, forecasts from a Reuters indicated, slightly slower than the 7.5 percent in the October-December period.
In Malaysia, shares of AirAsia leaped 5.29 percent after delivering a 6.8 percent climb in first-quarter net profit on Thursday. Southeast-Asia's fourth biggest bank Maybank closed down 0.9 percent despite posting a better-than-expected 6.3 percent rise profit for the March quarter.