Asia Ends Mixed Ahead of US Jobs Data

Asian markets ended mixed on Friday as investors stayed cautious ahead of the U.S. nonfarm payrolls report.

The FTSE CNBC Asia 100Index slipped 0.7 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 recovered from earlier losses to make a 0.1 percent gain on the day, touching a fresh eight-month closing peak, after being trapped in tight range, taking its weekly rise to 3 percent and extending its recent outperformance among Asian markets.

The Nikkei moved in and out of positive territory throughout the day after the previous day's drop in Wall Street stocks made investors edgy before December's U.S. employment report due later on Friday.

The benchmark Nikkei ended the day up 0.1 percent or 11.28 points at 10,541.04. Its immediate resistance now looms at its May 14 peak of 10,551.69. The broader Topix index gained 0.2 percent to 926.42.

Inpex fell 1.7 percent to 488,000 yen after oil prices tumbled more than 2 percent on Thursday to below $89 a barrel as a stronger dollar and weaker U.S. equities deterred buyers.

Trading houses like Mitsubishi Corp and Mitsui& Co both weakened.

Resona Holdings, which jumped 14 percent Thursday on speculation that its planned capital raising was near, fell 4 percent. Reuters reported that it will announce on Friday that it will go ahead with a planned share offering to raise around 600 billion yen to repay government bailout funds.

Chiyoda lost 8.6 percent after hitting an intraday low of 770 yen following reports that the company had failed to win a construction project in Qatar.

The report said Hyundai Heavy Industries and JGC Corp won engineering, procurement and construction contracts to help develop the Barzan gas field in Qatar, citing comments by the country's oil minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah in Doha.

Seoul Shares End Up, Samsung Electronics Falls

South Korean shares finished higher on Friday, led by automakers and retailers including Hyundai Motor and Shinsegae, but Samsung Electronics fell on a weaker-than-expected fourth quarter earnings guidance.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended up 0.4 percent at 2,086.20 points.

Samsung Electronics slipped 1 percent to 921,000 won, after hitting an earlier low of 914,000 won after the world's top maker of memory chips, flat screens and TVs gave a weaker-than-expected quarterly earnings estimate, hit by plunging prices.

Savings banks pared earlier gains and fell as earlier expectations that local large lenders may salvage those banks reeling from insolvent property loans via acquisitions weakened after a media report said financial groups were not interested in buying the listed savings banks.

Solomon Savings Bank fell 4 percent and Shinmin Mutual Savings Bank lost 6.9 percent, after shooting up 15 percent.

Elsewhere Hyundai Motor shares rose 2.1 percent to 198,000 won, posting a fresh closing high as shareholders of Hyundai Engineering & Construction were soon set to decide whether to name Hyundai Motor as preferred bidder for the country's largest builder late on Friday.

Shares in Shinsegae advanced 4.5 percent amid market speculation the South Korea's No.2 retailer was interested in buying out GS Homeshopping. Shinsegae spokesman denied such talk, saying the company "had no such plan." Shares in GS Homeshopping rose 4.2 percent.

HK Snaps 7-Day Winning Streak; Shanghai Up

Hong Kong stocks snapped a seven-session winning streak on Friday, losing ground
as Chinese lenders such as Agricultural Bank of China fell on further tightening worries.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed down 0.42 percent at 23,686.63. The China Enterprises Index of top Hong Kong-listed mainland companies fell 0.44 percent to 12,925.71.

Shanghai's key stock index rose 0.5 percent on Friday but was off an intraday high, with renewed interest in banking stocks and a flood of liquidity in the market offsetting talk of another imminent official tightening step, traders said.

AgBank's Hong Kong-listed shares fell 1.72 percent, while bigger rival Industrial and Commercial Bank of China slipped 0.68 percent.

Further weighing on banking shares was China Minsheng's fundraising plan. After the market closed, the lender said it would raise $3.2 billion in a Shanghai share placement.

Energy stocks such as CNOOC also fell as the price of oil tumbled. CNOOC ended the session down 2.44 percent to record its weakest close this week.

The Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.1 percent for the week as Chinese banks are rushing into their customary early-year lending blast under China's loan quota system — a factor that may trigger official tightening steps and restrain the stock market if it rises too quickly, traders said.

Metal stocks suffered a blow late in the session due to renewed tightening talk, becoming the biggest downward driver for the index in the day. Minmetals Development ended down 4.4 percent and Tongling Nonferrous Metal Group slumped 6.2 percent.

Banks, on the other hand, were the biggest upward driver for the index amid expectations that strong 2010 results will push their valuations to new lows. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, the top index mover as a single stock, jumped 4.4 percent.

Sixteen mainland-listed stocks all rose except Minsheng Banking, whose shares were suspended on a plan to raise about $3 billion in a share sale.

China Construction Bank, one of the most active stocks of the day, closed up 3.3 percent. CCB is one of six banks among the top 10 stocks which have the lowest 2010 forecast price earnings ratios.

Australia Slips on Flood Fears

Australian stocks closed weaker on Friday after lower commodity prices dragged miners lower while concerns about the economic impact of severe floods in Queensland state added to the negative sentiment.

While other major Asian markets were higher, Australian stocks have floundered with volumes thin in post-holiday trade this week although stronger industrials and consumer stocks cushioned some of the blow on Friday.

Global miner Rio Tinto , which has mining operations affected by the flooding, fell 1.8 percent while BHP Billiton declined 1.2 percent.

Australia's coal industry is expected to face months of disruptions as reports emerged Friday of key rail and road links being washed away by flooding which was a major influence on the local market this week amid estimates the nation's economy could take a $5 billion hit.

Shares in miners affected by the floods have been hit although some brokers believe rising coal prices could benefit some stocks. Shares in Coal of Africa , which does not have exposure to the flood-stricken region, rose 8.9 percent to A$1.71.

Coal haulage firm QR National initially fell 1.1 percent on local media reports that damage to its infrastructure from the flooding would significantly impact its earnings. The stock later recovered to trade 1.9 percent higher at A$2.71, outperforming the wider market.

Cockatoo Coal shares fell 4.0 percent after it said it expected production at a Queensland mine to be delayed several weeks.

Australian stock market operator ASX made clear on Friday it expected miners and other flood-affected companies to make prompt disclosures to investors about the impact on their operations. So far, only a very few miners have issued detailed updates on the flood impacts.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed 19.983 points lower at 4,705.0.

Consumer and industrial stocks cushioned the losses. Building products group CSR rose 3.6 percent after announcing details of a special dividend as it returns A$800 million to shareholders.

Australian rare earths miner Lynas Corp fell 7.5 percent to A$1.915 following substantial gains in the stock since China cut its export quotas for rare earth minerals late last year. Rare earths explorer Arafura fell 7.5 percent.

Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 0.56 percent while the KL Composite rose 0.2 percent.

Shares of Singapore's Kim Eng Holdings surged as much 13 percent on Friday after Malaysia's largest lender Maybank offered to buy the stockbroker for $1.4 billion.