Share markets in China and Japan charged up to their highest levels since August 21 on Friday, while the rest of the region faltered ahead of the release of U.S. nonfarm payrolls report that could provide hints to when the Federal Reserve will start to push up interest rates.
According to a Reuters survey, nonfarm payrolls likely increased 180,000 in October, well above the average gain of 139,000 jobs for August and September.
Remarks from Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen Chair on Wednesday have pointed to a possible December interest rate "liftoff" if upcoming economic data were supportive.
"I think the Fed's language suggests they are setting the bar pretty low in terms of what will prompt the initial rate hike in December. This [jobs report] is one of the last major data point they will get. I think they are expecting it to come in slightly below the run rate and it won't materially impact their plans for December," Sam Chandan, president and chief economist at Chandan Economics, told CNBC's "The Rundown" on Friday. Chandan expects the U.S. economy to have added 182,000 to 185,000 jobs last month.
Major U.S. averages fluctuated between positive and negative territory throughout the overnight trading session. The tech-heavy shed 0.3 percent overnight, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended flat. The S&P 500 slipped 0.1 percent, finishing a touch below the key psychological level of 2,100 as energy and utilities lagged.
Nikkei gains 0.8%
Among gainers, Yamada Denki surged 5.2 percent , extending Thursday gains that came after it raised its guidance and its year-end dividend. Other retailers such as Aeon and Takashimaya closed up more than 1 percent each.
Troubled airbag maker Takata remained in focus; the stock plummeted 6.2 percent to its lowest level since April 2009, ahead of its earnings results due later in the day.
Takata has been in free-fall since more automakers considered abandoning the company's air bag inflators. Mazda on Thursday joined Honda Motor in saying it would drop its inflators containing ammonium nitrate - a volatile chemical suspected of causing the defects - from its new cars.
"When a flagship client i.e. Honda pulled the plug on the supply contract, it is foreboding of some changes that we are going to see. Mazda, Mitsubishi and others are now contemplating on pulling the plug as well... we could see that happen with other American and European manufacturers," Scott Upham, founder, president & chief executive officer at Valient Market Research, told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia."
Shares of Toyota Motor finished flat after announcing plans to buy back as much as 798 billion yen ($6.6 billion) worth of its stock this fiscal year. The carmaker said on Thursday that quarterly profit rose 13.5 percent to 611.7 billion yen ($5.0 billion) and the automaker kept its annual earnings forecast unchanged despite trimming its expectations for vehicle sales.
China stocks up
China's key Shanghai Composite swung up 1.9 percent to finish at its highest level since August 21.
In the previous session, the Shanghai bourse entered a technical bull market after gaining more than 20 percent since August 26, the bottom of the summer selloff.
However, not all analysts feel that Chinese shares are out of the doldrums. Kim Eng Securities' Willie Chan, for one, thinks that the market is merely seeing a "technical rebound following a sharp correction in June and July, as well as September as well."
"It is a technical rebalance as we don't see many positive drivers that will push up the markets. We are concerned that domestic demand is weak, export growth isn't strong and corporate earnings are not good," said the Hong Kong-based regional strategist who remains nderweight Chinese stocks.
Securities firms continued to attract hefty buy orders; Citic Securities, Industrial Securities, Founder Securities and Everbright Securities hit the daily upward limit of 10 percent for the second straight session, while Huatai Securities, China Merchants Securities and Haitong Securities tacked on between 7.4 and 8.5 percent.
Among other indexes, the blue-chip CSI300 Index notched up 2.4 percent while the start-up ChiNext board powered up 3.7 percent.
The London-based lender said on November 3 it will eliminate 15,000 jobs, as soaring bad loans in emerging markets hurt earnings. Standard Chartered was the third European bank in less than two weeks to announce job cuts, following Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse.
Taiex skids 1.8%
Taiwan's weighted index widened losses, with tech plays and financials leading the way down.
In other news, President Ma Ying-jeou will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore on Saturday, marking the first talks between leaders of the two neighbors in more than six decades. The landmark summit is seen as a breakthrough for a relationship that has been strained since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
ASX adds 0.4%
Australia's index erased early losses to end Friday modestly higher.
Battered gold producers got a reprieve as gold prices edged up in Asian trade; Evolution Mining and Kingsgate Consolidated rose 1.1 and 2.2 percent respectively.
Financials mostly recouped early losses, with Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia advancing 1.7 and 1 percent respectively. Shares of Australia and New Zealand Banking was the sole underperformer, down 2.6 percent.
In other news, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has become more confident about the outlook for economic growth, while a surprisingly subdued pace of inflation offered room for interest rates to be cut again if needed, the central banks' quarterly policy outlook showed on Friday.
Kospi slips 0.4%
South Korea's Kospi index closed down in subdued trade.
Jeju Air, the first South Korean budget airline to list, plunged 2.8 percent to 48,100 in its market debut on Friday.
Pharmaceutical counters were the outperformers, with the pharmaceuticals sub-index rallying 10.4 percent. Hanmi Pharmaceutical soared 30 percent following news that it has entered into a licensing deal with French drugmaker Sanofi to develop experimental diabetes treatment on Wednesday. Hyundai Pharmaceutical and Daewoong Pharmaceutical also leaped 7.1 and 4.2 percent respectively.
STI sags 0.4%
Singapore's benchmark Straits Times index stepped into negative turf on the back of declines among large-caps.
Focus was on Singapore Airlines (SIA) which opened an offer to buy back shares of Tiger Airways that it currently doesn't own as it seeks to delist and privatize its low-cost subsidiary. Singapore Airlines currently owns 55.8 percent of Tiger Airways.
Shares of SIA fell 1 percent after returning from a trading halt near mid-day.