Asian Stocks Mixed; Nikkei, Korea Rally

Asian shares retreated from session gains on Thursday afternoon to trade mixed, but Korea hit a fresh 3-month high after its central bank held interest rates steady while a weaker yen drove Japan to an 8-month high.

ASX 200
CNBC 100

The FTSE CNBC Asia 100 index rose 0.3 percent.

Japan's Nikkei average surged above 9,700 for the first time since early April, with exporters buoyed by a yen that falls as expectations rise that the Bank of Japan will implement more aggressive monetary easing.

The benchmark index rose 1.7 percent to 9,742.73, the highest closing level since April 5. The broader Topix index was up 1.0 percent at 799.21.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial rallied 1 percent after Reuters reported early Thursday that it is set to buy Bank of America's stake in their Japanese private banking venture for 39 billion yen ($470 million).

Other banks rose with Sumitomo Mitsui Financial climbing 2.7 percent, and Nomura, Japan's top brokerage, rising 3.1 percent.

Panasonic surged 7.2 percent to a 1-1/2-month high and was the most traded stock on the main board by turnover after Barclays Securities raised its ratings on the consumer electronics maker to 'overweight' from 'equal-weight.'

South Korean shares closed up at a three-month high on Thursday after the country's central bank held interest rates steady amid more easing from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) closed up 1.4 percent at 2,002.77 points. The index last touched the psychological milestone in early October.

Samsung Electronics rose 2.9 percent to close at a fresh life-time high of 1.533 million won ($1,400). Shares in the tech giant have been on a record-breaking streak in recent weeks and rose 9 percent since the beginning of December.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) was up 1.3 percent at 2,002.7 points, breaking above the 2,000 mark last touched in early October.

STX Pan Ocean rose more than 8 percent, adding to Wednesday's near 15 percent gain on news that its cash-strapped parent company, STX Corp, may sell its stake.

Australian shares were unable to build on 17-month highs on Thursday as a rise in the Australian dollar to three-month highs stifled this week's rally.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended flat at 4,582.8 points.

Graincorp lost 0.6 percent after stating early Thursday that an upwardly revised offer from Archer Daniel Midland still "materially undervalues" it.

Iluka Resources sank 5.5 percent after it said zircon and synthetic rutile volumes are near the bottom end of previously advised ranges and market conditions for its mineral sands products remain challenging.

Linc Energy retreated 14 percent to A$1.12, unwinding after two days of steep gains on the back of speculation Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich is interested in the company.

New Zealand's NZX 50 index closed down 0.5 percent at 3,974.7.

China stocks extended their retreat from a one-month high hit earlier this week as investors sold large-cap shares to lock in recent gains.

The CSI300 closed down 1.1 percent at 2,242.6 while the Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.0 percent.

Energy firms slipped, with Petrochina down 0.5 percent and refiner Sinopec down 1 percent.

Hong Kong shares pulled back from 16-month highs as concern over the U.S. "fiscal cliff" and weak mainland shares prompted investors to take some money off the table.

The Hang Seng index ended down 0.3 percent at 22,445.58. The China Enterprises index eased 0.2 percent.

Utilities were weak in Hong Kong led by a 3.6 percent drop for CLP Holdings after it raised $982 million in new shares to fund expansion. Power Assets fell 1.4 percent.

Corporates and investors have taken advantage of the recent rally in Hong Kong to sell shares in the open market. Shares of property firm Kaisa Holdings slumped 7.7 percent after private equity firm Carlyle Group said it was selling up to $67 million of stock in the company.

Singapore's Straits Times Index edged up 0.5 percent while Malaysia's KL Composite Index closed up 0.2 percent.

In India, both the BSE Index and the 50-share NSE Index fell 0.7 and 0.6 percent, respectively.