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Asian stocks wobble ahead of FOMC meeting

U.S. Federal Reserve
Brendan Smialowski | Bloomberg | Getty Images
U.S. Federal Reserve

Asian stocks see-sawed on the final trading day of the week, as investors eyed increased uncertainty heading into the Federal Reserve's crucial meeting on interest rates next week.

The Fed is widely expected to raise its near-zero interest rate as early as next week amid improving economic fundamentals in the U.S. But an abrupt devaluation of the yuan by Chinese authorities in August and renewed turmoil in global markets has had some market watchers paring back their forecasts.

Overnight, Wall Street finished higher on the back of a bounce in oil prices and major stocks such as Apple. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite led gains with a 0.8 percent rise. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 closed up 0.5 percent each.

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Meanwhile, markets in Singapore are closed on Friday as the Southeast Asian city-state holds its most widely-contested elections since independence 50 years ago.

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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Nikkei dips 0.2%

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fluctuated between modest gains and losses throughout Friday, as traders looked ahead to the key events next week.

"Japanese markets are intimately focused on the outcome of two major central bank meetings: The Fed and the Bank of Japan's (BOJ) at the end of October. If the Fed fails to hike next week, the yen looks set for noticeable strengthening. However, the decline of second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) amid a slew of other weakening data appears to be resetting the calculus for the BOJ," IG market analyst Angus Nicholson wrote in a note.

Blue-chip exporters including Toyota Motor slumped 1.4 percent, while Toshiba doubled losses to 3.2 percent after the Nikkei business daily said that reported that Japan's Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC) is preparing to launch an investigation into accounting irregularities at the troubled conglomerate.

Index heavyweights witnessed choppy trade; SoftBank meandered between gains and losses, and eventually finished 0.6 percent lower. Fast Retailing erased early declines to rebound 1.5 percent, but Fanuc closed down 2.8 percent.

Financials saw a pick-up in buying interest, after being sold-off intensively in the previous session. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group advanced 1.1 and 0.9 percent respectively, while Nomura Holdings rallied 1.3 percent.

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Shanghai Comp flat

China's Shanghai Composite index recouped losses to close up 0.08 percent at the end of a wildly volatile week.

Other major indexes in the country mirrored the choppy movements in the benchmark index. The CSI300 Index — which tracks the country's largest publicly traded companies — shed 0.3 percent, while the Shenzhen Composite changed course to end up 0.6 percent.

Trading has been relatively calm on Friday, as investors await the raft of economic indicators scheduled for release over the weekend for more clues to the health of China's economy.

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Retail sales in the mainland is seen holding steady in August at 10.5 percent, according to a Reuters poll, while industrial output is expected to have gained some traction, rising 6.4 percent on year in August, from 6.0 percent in July.

"Industrial production will probably continue to soften especially in industries such as construction where the housing market is impacting," Emily Dabbs, economist at Moody's Analytics, told CNBC.

Fixed asset investment is forecast to have decelerated to 11.1 percent in the first eight months of the year from the same period in 2014, compared with 11.2 percent in January-July, the Reuters poll showed.

ASX drops 0.5%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index finished lower following a day of choppy trade amid jittery sentiment.

National Australia Bank erased losses to close up marginally, but shares of Australia and New Zealand Banking and Westpac notched down 0.5 and 0.9 percent respectively. Commonwealth Bank of Australia sought a trading halt early Friday, pending the undertaking and completion of a retail bookbuild.

Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search, which are involved in an $8 billion all-share takeover plan, underperformed the energy sector by losing 2.5 and 1.6 percent, respectively. Santos advanced 0.7 percent, finding support from a 4 percent spike in energy prices overnight.

Kospi drops 1.1%

South Korea's Kospi index declined as the Bank of Korea decided to keep its policy interest rate unchanged early Friday, in line with expectations.

Meanwhile, profit-taking among investors, notably foreigners, also kept the bourse on the back foot. According to Reuters, foreign traders offloaded a net 46.5 billion won ($39.31 million) worth of shares in the main board by mid-day, on course to extend their selling spree into the 27th straight session.

Among laggards, heavyweight components such as Posco, Kepco and Samsung Electronics lost between 1.7 and 2.4 percent.

Chipmaker SK Hynix eased 2.6 percent, while consumer discretionary plays also weighed on the bourse, with retailers such as Lotte Shopping and Shinsegae closing down 1.1 and 2.4 percent, respectively.

KLCI falls 0.7%

Malaysian shares declined on Friday closing 0.65 percent lower.

The Malaysian central bank decided on Friday to keep the benchmark rate steady at 3.25 percent. In a statement, the Bank Negara Malaysia's monetary policy committee said it would remain "accommodative and supportive of economic activity".