Markets in Asia advance as dollar firms; South Korea's Kospi rises 1.5%

  • Asian stocks advanced on Friday after recording a mixed close in the last session.
  • Oil-related stocks in Japan and Australia rose after oil prices held onto overnight gains.
  • Regulators in China said they would take over control of Anbang Insurance for one year.
  • The dollar edged up against a basket of rivals.
  • St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said Thursday that raising interest rates too quickly could slow the economy too much.

Asian stocks closed higher on Friday as the dollar edged higher after slipping in the last session. Gains in the region were led by South Korea's Kospi, which bounced back to rise more than 1.5 percent after slipping in the last session.

The Nikkei 225 edged up 0.72 percent, or 156.34 points, to close at 21,892.78. Oil-related stocks were higher as oil prices mostly held onto overnight gains. Inpex and JXTG Holdings added 2.12 percent and 3.34 percent, respectively, by the end of the session.

Automakers were also in positive territory, with Toyota climbing 0.66 percent. The technology sector was a mixed picture: Heavyweight SoftBank Group added 1.38 percent and Sony closed higher by 0.09 percent.

On the data front, Japan's core consumer price index rose 0.9 percent in January compared to one year ago, a touch above the 0.8 percent rise forecast, Reuters reported.

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Gains in Seoul were more convincing, with the benchmark Kospi index advancing 1.54 percent to close at 2,451.52. Major technology stocks traded higher on the day, with Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix gaining 0.98 percent and 1.84 percent, respectively.

Manufacturers were also in positive territory, with steelmaker Posco climbing 0.83 percent. Meanwhile, shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries rose 4 percent and Lotte Chemical added 4.18 percent by the end of the session.

In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 tacked on 0.82 percent to finish at 5,999.8. Major miners Rio Tinto and BHP closed up 0.91 percent and 1.59 percent, respectively, contributing to the materials sector's overall gains.

Oil-related stocks were mostly higher at the end of the session as oil prices held onto gains made in the last session. Woodside Petroleum added 0.46 percent and Oil Search gained 0.67 percent, although oil producer Santos slipped 0.19 percent. Airline stocks also made gains, with Qantas up 2.69 percent after reporting record interim profit on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 1.13 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN. Tech heavyweight Tencent contributed 42 points — the most among the index's constituents — to the Hang Seng's 351.91-point gains an hour before the market close.

The property sector was the best-performer in the afternoon and gains were seen across large cap developers. Country Garden jumped 6.07 percent and CK Asset was higher by 1.05 percent. The financials sector also advanced, with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China gaining 1.44 percent by 3:01 p.m. HK/SIN.

Markets on the mainland closed with moderate gains: The Shanghai composite rose 0.63 percent to close at 3,289.24 and the Shenzhen composite reversed earlier losses to close higher by 0.18 percent.

Of note, regulators in the country said they would take over Anbang Insurance Group for a year beginning Feb. 23. The move came amid an ongoing crackdown on debt in China. Other Chinese insurers listed on the mainland finished the day in positive territory, with Ping An Insurance Group closing up 1.28 percent.

The upbeat sentiment was also seen in other regional markets. Taiwan's Taiex closed higher by 1.24 percent and Singapore's Straits Times Index advanced 1.41 percent by 3:07 p.m. HK/SIN.

The moves higher in Asia came as investors digested Fed speak from Thursday. St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that raising interest rates too aggressively could slow the economy too much.

Bullard's comments came after the Federal Reserve indicated in minutes released earlier this week that a gradual firming in monetary policy was justified due to an expected pick-up in inflation.

Shares in Asia had closed mixed in the previous session following the release of those minutes, with the Nikkei and Hang Seng closing lower by more than 1 percent.

"While we remain of the view that the pullback in share markets this month is a correction ... it remains premature to conclude that it's over as it will take a while for markets to adjust to higher inflation, a more aggressive Fed and higher bond yields," Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist AMP Capital, said in a note.

On Wall Street, the Nasdaq composite finished lower for the fourth consecutive session as concerns over higher interest rates lingered.That was in contrast to the gains seen in other major U.S. stock indexes.

Markets also considered minutes from the European Central Bank's January meeting released on Thursday, which reflected that it could take another look at its policy "early this year."

The dollar, meanwhile, clawed back some of its gains pared overnight. The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against six rivals, stood at 89.910 at 2:45 p.m. HK/SIN, off an overnight high of 90.235 but a touch firmer than Thursday's close of 89.713.

Against the yen, the dollar firmed to trade at 107.05 after slipping as low as 106.58 in the overnight session.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar slipped 0.28 percent to trade at $0.7823 and the New Zealand dollar declined 0.55 percent to trade at $0.7298. The chief of Australia's central bank has indicated that there was no pressing reason to raise rates anytime soon.

On the energy front, oil prices were steady after touching their highest levels in two years in the overnight session following a surprise reported decline in U.S. crude stocks.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures traded higher by 0.06 percent at $62.81 per barrel. Brent crude futures edged down by 0.06 percent to trade at $66.35.

Corporate news

In individual stocks, shares of Australian supermarket chain Woolworths Group fell 2.6 percent after the company reported first-half net profit rose 14.7 percent to 902 million Australian dollars ($708 million).

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Bank of Australia denied most of the 100 additional allegations made against the bank by Australian financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC in a Friday statement. CBA shares rose 1.09 percent by the end of Friday, leading gains seen in Australia's banking sector.