Asia Mostly Lower Ahead of ECB Meeting

ASX 200
CNBC 100

Asian stocks were mostly lower on Thursday, giving up some of the previous session's gains as caution set in ahead of central bank policy meetings in Europe later in the day.

Japan's Nikkei share average fell as investors locked in profits after the index jumped to a four-year high on Wednesday on expectations that aggressive monetary easing could come sooner-than-expected. The view was triggered by a decision by Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa to step down before the end of his five-year term in April.

The Nikkei share average closed down 0.9 percent at 11,357.07.

Nikon Corp plummeted as much as 19 percent to a daily limit of 2,139 yen and its lowest level in more than two months, as a sharp cut in its outlook disappointed investors who had chased the stock higher over the past three months.

Bucking the market's overall weakness, Sony Corp gained 2.6 percent on expectations for strong earnings results.

After the closing bell, Sony said it posted a third-quarter operating profit of 46.4 billion yen ($496 million) after a 91.7 billion yen loss a year ago. The result was below analysts' expectations for a profit of about 72.1 billion yen.

Among other gainers, Mazda Motor soared 12 percent after the carmaker raised its operating profit forecast for the year ending March 31 by 80 percent to 45 billion yen ($482 million), which would be its highest since the year ended March 2008.

Across regional markets, focus turned to the European Central Bank and Bank of England which meet later on Thursday.

South Korean shares fell for a sixth straight day, with the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) closing down 0.2 percent at 1,931.77 points.

Technology shares buttressed the main board, with LG Electronics closing 2 percent higher.

In contrast to most regional stock markets, Australian shares edged higher, bolstered by the top miners after iron ore prices rose.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.3 percent higher at 4914.9. The benchmark rose 0.8 percent on Wednesday.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index slipped 0.4 percent to 4,195.24.

Investors in Australia also digested earnings results from two of the market's biggest stocks National Australia Bank and Telstra Corp.

Top lender National Australia Bank reported a 4 percent rise in first-quarter cash earnings, boosted by rising revenues and a fall in bad debts. Its shares rose 1.9 percent.

Top phone company Telstra Corp posted a 1.4 percent rise in first-half net profit, bolstered by growth in its mobiles business, lifting its share up 0.3 percent.

News Corp fell more than 3 percent after reporting December quarter results.

Shanghai shares posted their first loss in nine days, as investors booked profits on Chinese financials after the central bank signaled it would shift its focus back to tackling inflation from supporting growth.

The Shanghai Composite Index ended down 0.7 percent at 2,418.5. The CSI300 of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings shed 0.6 percent from Wednesday's 17-month closing high.

China needs to pay special attention to consumer prices, the central bank said on Wednesday in its fourth-quarter monetary policy report, a turnaround from its previous focus of supporting economic growth.

In Hong Kong, shares fell as investors booked profits on mainland financials after China's central bank signaled it would shift its focus back to tackling inflation from supporting growth.

The Hang Seng Index ended down 0.3 percent at 23,177 points, holding above Tuesday's one-month closing low of 23,104.3. The China Enterprises Index of the top Chinese listings in Hong Kong shed 1.4 percent.

China Minsheng Bank tumbled 5.2 percent. As of Wednesday, Minsheng shares had more than doubled from lows in September as signs of a recovering Chinese economy and low valuations spurred interest in the bank's shares.

Shares of Aluminum Corporation of China (Chalco) fell 2.8 percent after the index manager said late on Wednesday that Lenovo Group will take its place as a Hang Seng Index component from March 4. Lenovo's shares jumped 5.2 percent.

China is expected to post January inflation and trade data on Friday.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore's STI fell 0.5 percent, while Malaysia's KLCI trading up 0.3 percent.

Indian shares fell to their lowest close in one-and-a-half months, led by a decline in banking stocks, after government estimates showed India's FY13 growth could be worse than expected, while Cipla fell after its October-December net profit missed estimates.

ICICI Bank provisionally fell 0.8 percent, while Cipla ended 2.4 percent lower.

The BSE index provisionally fell 0.26 percent, while the 50-share NSE index ended down 0.31 percent.