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China stocks up for six straight sessions; rest of Asia mixed

Mainland stocks outperformed the region on Thursday, while other Asian bourses traded mixed as a weaker finish on Wall Street overnight and lackluster economic data dampened trading sentiment.

"[In China], goodwill has been spurred on largely by further encouraging narrative on the front page of the Shanghai Securities News that 'China shouldn't withdraw stock support measures near-term'. The fact that 18 percent of stocks are still suspended is probably helping to a degree," IG's chief market strategist Chris Weston wrote in a note.

The commodity space also garnered some attention; spot gold edged up modestly to $1,096.70 an ounce in early Asian trade after chalking up its 10th straight day of losses, in the longest losing streak for the precious metal in almost 20 years. In the energy space, U.S. crude remained below the $50 level as rising U.S. stockpiles and a strong dollar weighed on the commodity.

Over in Europe, the Greek government secured enough votes in parliament to pass a second package of reforms for a bailout package. The euro appeared little changed at 1.0944 against the greenback after the news.

Wall Street declined for a second straight session due to disappointing tech earnings overnight. The Nasdaq Composite was the biggest loser, down 0.7 percent, while the blue-chip Dow and the S&P 500 shed 0.4 and 0.2 percent, respectively.

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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Kospi flat

South Korea's Kospi index ended little changed after choppy trade, but the won deepened its rout to hover near a two-year low against the U.S. dollar following a lackluster growth report card for the second quarter.

The central bank's advance estimates showed the economy expanded 2.2 percent on-year in the June quarter, a tad below the 2.3 percent forecast from a Reuters poll, and below the 2.5 percent growth in the previous three months. Last month, the country announced a financial package of more than 15 trillion won ($13 billion), including a supplementary budget, to boost growth as a deadly outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) threatened to harm the already shaky economy.

A barrage of corporate news also dominated the market; Hyundai Motor climbed 5.3 percent to a five-week high after saying it will pay an interim dividend for the first time, of 1,000 won per share.

Memory chip maker SK Hynix trimmed gains to 2.1 percent, after surging nearly 5 percent earlier in the day following the announcement of a share buyback worth 859.1 billion won, as it attempts to boost a stock price that has languished in recent months amid worries about a weaker business outlook. The company also reported a 26.9 percent rise in second-quarter operating profit, missing markets expectations, early Thursday.

"The buyback is a reaction to the recent selloff in its stock, [which fell] significantly over the past few months due to weak PC demand which is affecting the DRAM prices," Mehdi Hosseini, senior analyst and senior VP of Semiconductors at Susquehanna Financial Group, told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia." "They are doing this to stabilize the share price."

LG Display trimmed losses to 1.5 percent after its second-quarter operating profit beat market consensus to come in at 488 billion won.

Oil refiner SK Innovation plummeted 6.9 percent on the back of news that it will halt the initial public offering (IPO) process for its SK Lubricants unit.

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ASX slips 0.4%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index slid on the back of losses in the mining and banking sectors.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto stayed firmly in the red with a 3 and 1.9 percent drop, respectively. Fortescue Metals reversed a briefly higher open to slump 6 percent after it said it shipped slightly more iron ore than expected last fiscal year and plans to deepen cost-cutting amid a downturn in the price of the steel-making raw material.

Newcrest Mining, which bore the brunt of the selloff for the past few sessions, jumped 2.7 percent on news that the gold miner met its full-year production guidance.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's central bank cut its official cash rate by 25 basis points for a second consecutive review, while flagging the probability of further easing due to a softer economic outlook and low inflation.

Following the move, which was in line with expectations, the local stock market nursed modest losses, while the New Zealand dollar rose as high as $0.6650 against the U.S dollar, from $0.6565 before the statement.

However, analysts say the rise in the kiwi will be short-lived. "In the last hour or so since the rate cut, [the currency] has been seeing a kneejerk reaction or a short squeeze. I expect the kiwi dollar to mellow a little throughout the day and return to weakness for the year," John Doyle, director of markets at Tempus, told CNBC's "The Rundown."

Mainland indices rise

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index climbed up steadily to end Thursday 2.4 percent higher, chalking up a six-session winning streak. Analysts believe the market is slowly recovering from last month's turbulent collapse, after authorities pulled out all stops to avert a stock market crash.

"Simply put, you cannot fight the Chinese government, particularly if they put trillions of renminbi to stabilize the market. Here's two reasons to give them some credit; the leverage in the market has come down substantially by 40 percent, while corporate insiders, namely the shareholders and senior management, are not allowed to sell into the secondary market for 6 months," said Steven Sun, head of China equity strategy at HSBC, who upgraded his rating on the A-share market to "neutral" from "sell" since the beginning of July.

Meanwhile, Citi analysts said Chinese markets "are not in a bubble and excessive bearishness towards emerging markets and China will be proven wrong."

Banks and brokerages led advances; China Construction Bank ended up 1.1 percent, while Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of Communications bumped up 0.5 and 1.4 percent, respectively.

Train maker CRRC Corp rose 1.6 percent in Shanghai and 0.8 percent in Hong Kong after winning a 4.84 billion yuan order from Hong Kong transportation firm MTR Crop.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index picked up 0.7 percent, recovering from Wednesday's drop, with the help of the gaming sector.

Shares of Sands China leaped 7 percent, tracking the surge in Las Vegas Sands overnight after the casino operator reported better-than-expected revenues of just over $3 billion. Other gaming shares got a lift from the buoyant mood; Galaxy Entertainment and SJM Holdings charged 5 and 3.3 percent, respectively.

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Nikkei gains 0.4%

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index finished higher amid rangebound trade, with better-than-expected trade figures helping sentiment.

Japan's exports rose 9.5 percent from a year earlier, well above the 2.4 percent gain in May. Meanwhile, imports fell 2.9 percent from a year earlier, down for a sixth straight month, but significantly lower than the 4.0 percent drop estimated in a Reuters survey. This led to a trade deficit of 69.0 billion yen in June.

Softbank shares closed up 0.2 percent after a report by the Nikkei business daily said the telecom and Internet investor is gearing up for dollar and euro-bond issuances.

Tourism-related plays rallied, after the Japan National Tourism Organization said Wednesday that a record number of tourists traveled to Japan during the first half of 2015. Shares of department stores climbed, with Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings and Takashimaya up more than 3 percent each.

Toshiba declined 0.9 percent, extending a 1.7 percent loss in the previous session after its CEO resigned in the wake of an independent report on the company's 152 billion yen ($1.2 billion) accounting scandal.

STI adds 0.4%

Consumer prices in Singapore slipped 0.3 percent on-year in June, according to government data, in line with expectations and compared with a 0.4 percent drop in May. The data marked a fall in the all-items consumer price index (CPI) for the eighth straight month, renewing calls of further easing in monetary policy later this year.

With most of the weakness in core inflation being externally-driven, further policy action by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will depend on the outlook for growth, ANZ analysts wrote in a note.

Earlier this week, Singapore's central bank said headline and core inflation this year are likely to be at the lower end of its earlier forecasts, but it expects prices to pick up in 2016.

The Straits Times index retained a 0.4 percent rise following the inflation figures.