Asia Markets

Asian shares edge up, with Nikkei 225 at 18-year peak

Nikkei 225 scales 18-year high
Nikkei 225 scales 18-year high

Asian shares advanced amid rangebound trade on Wednesday, with Japan's Nikkei 225 index clinching an 18-year high.

Optimism around Greece's debt talks continues to buoy sentiment ahead of a meeting of EU finance ministers later in the day.

Overnight, U.S. equities handed over a mildly positive lead, with the Nasdaq Composite eking out another record close, as investors awaited clarity on Greece and eyed continued signs of moderate economic growth. The blue-chip Dow edged up 0.13 percent, while the S&P 500 ended flat.

In Europe, the pan-European Stoxx 600 index closed around 1.2 percent higher, with all sectors ending the day in positive territory.

Shanghai Comp jumps 2.5%

Following a relatively calm morning session, China's Shanghai Composite index was hit by another bout of extreme volatility in the afternoon session, falling briefly into negative territory before closing up more than 2 percent.

Property heavyweights were among those which helped the bourse to reverse course. China Vanke and the mainland's largest state-owned developer Poly Real Estate recouped earlier losses to notch up 0.8 and 1.4 percent, respectively.

Energy plays were buoyant, with China Oilfield Services and Sinopec soaring 5.9 and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Read MoreThese risks could derail China's bull run

In the previous session, the Shanghai bourse ended up 2.2 percent, not before plunging to a three-week intra-day trough. This came on the back of a 13.3 percent tumble last week - the benchmark index's sharpest weekly drop since the global financial crisis - precipitated by a raft of initial public offerings (IPOs) that locked up an estimated 6.7 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) worth of funds, as well as regulatory efforts to rein in excessive levels of leverage.

According to market watchers, a flood of editorials by state-run Chinese media on Tuesday probably encouraged investors to get back into the equity market. The Securities Times said in an editorial that investors "needn't panic" as the fundamental support for the market's uptrend has not disappeared, while a front-page commentary in the Shanghai Securities News said a moderate pull-back would help create a "slow and long" bull market.

Analysts also mostly remain sanguine about the market's longer-term outlook. "Despite the quick correction in the A-share market, the key tone of the monetary and fiscal expansion has not changed and long-term liquidity conditions are expected to improve," according to a note by UOB Kay Hian issued Tuesday.

Why this expert remains sanguine on China stocks
Why this expert remains sanguine on China stocks

Nikkei gains 0.3%

The Tokyo bourse edged up to its highest level since December 1996, supported by signs of a recovery in the world's third-largest economy, earnings optimism and expectations that Greece will avoid a debt default.

"The Bank of Japan's meeting minutes released today signaled growing optimism about the economy... so we now have a situation where economic conditions are improving in Japan and officials are still happy to maintain an ultra-accommodative stance. This is fueling the liquidity trade and equities are clear beneficiaries," IG market strategist Stan Shamu wrote in a note.

Ray Barros, CEO of Ray Barros Trading Group, told CNBC the benchmark Nikkei 225 is poised for further upside: "The index is playing catch-up after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his version of quantitative easing. Now that the Nikkei is taking off based on easy money, what we are seeing in Japan is an earlier version of the U.S. stock market... and the index will continue to head north until some third-party event [halts] the notion that the central bank will continue to support the stock market, but there's nothing like that on the horizon now."

Financials and brokerage houses attracted hefty buy orders; Resona Holdings closed up 1.2 percent, while Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group advanced 0.6 percent each.

Among brokerages, Nomura Holdings and Daiwa Securities Group piled on 1.3 and 1.5 percent, respectively.

Underperforming the bourse, Konica Minolta fell nearly 4 percent following news that it plans to acquire U.S. measurement equipment manufacturer Radiant Vision Systems.

Are bubbles brewing in the Nasdaq, Nikkei?
Are bubbles brewing in the Nasdaq, Nikkei?

ASX flat

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index ended near the previous day's close, after banking heavyweights such as Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, as well as National Australia Bank, trimmed gains.

Within the resources sector, gold producers underperformed as spot gold lingered at one-week lows. Evolution Mining and Newcrest Mining tanked 4.4 and 3.3 percent, respectively.

By contrast, energy counters cheered firmer crude oil prices in Asian trade; Woodside Petroleum and Santos moved up 0.2 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

Shares of recruitment firm Skilled Group rallied 7.1 percent after announcing that it accepted a 422 million Australian dollars ($325 million) takeover deal from rival Programmed Maintenance.

Kospi adds 0.2%

South Korea's key Kospi index eked out marginal gains to extend a five-day winning streak.

The pharmaceutical sector outperformed, with a gauge of healthcare stocks jumping nearly 3 percent. Within the sector, Daewoong Pharmaceutical and Hyundai Pharmaceutical leaped 6 and 9.2 percent, respectively.

Blue chips lost some of Tuesday's strong upward momentum, thereby limiting the bourse's gains. Samsung Electronics eased nearly 2 percent after bolstering 3 percent in the previous session, while Hyundai Motor elevated 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the country's health ministry reported four new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 179.

— CNBC's Holly Ellyatt contributed to this market report