Asian Stocks End Mixed, Resources Sag

Asian stocks closed mixed on Friday, weighed down by a drop in resources-related shares as commodity prices declined.

The FTSE CNBC Asia 100 index edged down 0.3 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 closed down 0.9 percent in heavy trade on Friday, moving away from 8-month highs, after a surprisingly weak settlement of options for January and a slightly stronger yen against the dollar triggered profit-taking.

The decline, which surprised the market after brisk earnings from Intel , was partly offset by gains in chip-related stocks boosted by the world's largest chipmaker's strong results.

The downside was also limited as Fast Retailing, one of the biggest Nikkei components on a weighted basis, surged 6.4 percent after it kept its annual earnings outlook intact despite weak first-quarter sales and as Nomura Securities hiked its rating.

The Nikkei 225 fell 0.9 percent, or 90.72 points, to 10,499.04, shedding 0.4 percent on the week. The broader Topix lost 0.8 percent to 930.31.

KOSPI Ends Up 0.9%

Seoul shares rose 0.9 percent on Friday buoyed by firm gains in financials and auto issues including Hana Financial Group and Hyundai Motor, but losses in crude oil refiners such as SK Energy weighed.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended up 0.89 percent at 2,108.17 points.

Shares in Hyundai Motor, South Korea's top automaker, rose 4.43 percent to 200,500 won, after hitting an intraday record high of 203,000 won, following its launch of new Grandeur sedan in the domestic market. Hyundai said it aimed to sell 100,000 redesigned Grandeur sedans globally this year. Shares in Kia Motors rose 1.2 percent.

Shares in SK Energy fell 3.08 percent and S-Oil lost 2.99 percent. GS Holdings, the holding company of GS Caltex, South Korea's No.2 crude oil refiner, shed 2.11 percent.

But financial plays continued gains buoyed by expectations of a series of interest rate rises, following Bank of Korea's rate increase decision on Thursday.

Shares in Shinhan Financial Group rose 2.3 percent and Hana Financial Group 4.7 percent.

Insurers also advanced as they have substantial holdings in interest bearing assets. Samsung Life rose 3.3 percent and Korea Life climbed 0.6 percent.

Shares in Korea Express spiked 14.5 percent after POSCO said it was considering purchasing a stake in the logistics firm.

But shares in POSCO fell 1 percent pressured by its disappointing set of fourth quarter earningson Thursday. The world's No.3 steelmaker posted a weaker-than-expected quarterly profit and warned it was struggling to pass on rising costs as floods in Australia disrupt raw material supplies.

Tong Yang Major jumped 5 percent after the company said late on Thursday it plans to make a share offering worth around 325.8 billion won, easing fears about the firm's financial health.

Firm gains in shipyards helped, as shares in Hyundai Heavy Industries rose 2.8 percent and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering advanced 3.2 percent.

Hana Tour, an on-and-offline tour agency, rallied 7.2 percent and Modetour gained 6.3 percent.

Australia Ends at 8-1/2 Month Closing High

Australian stocks nudged up 0.1 percent on Friday, to its highest close in 8-1/2 months, led by gains in banks.

The index also edged above a key chart resistance level of 4,800 points while snapping a two-week losing streak. It gained 2 percent for the week.

All four banks gained as investors saw value in the stocks after recent losses. Westpac Banking Corp , the country's third-largest bank, led the pack, rising 0.8 percent.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index inched up 6.26 points to 4,801.50, registering its highest close since end-April, according to latest data.

This week, the market has largely shrugged off the deadly Queensland floods. The clean-up of Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, began on Friday, although smaller towns remained on alert for fresh floods.

Only the insurers, who are likely to pass on the bulk of their claims to the reinsurers, have had a mixed run during the week as concerns remained over the flood final claims.

Retailers continued their rise as investors felt the sell-off on weak Christmas demand was overdone. Top supermarket chain Woolworths led gains with a 2.4 percent rise to A$27.63, its highest close in nearly two months.

Metal prices fell as investors feared a fall in demand from key consumer China amid the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday period and further monetary tightening. That pushed heavyweight miners BHP Billiton down 0.4 percent to A$45.85, though rival Rio Tinto firmed 0.6 percent to A$87.53 as traders said investors were shifting from BHP to Rio.

Sigma Pharmaceuticals rose 2.3 percent to A$0.44 with an extension of its debt repayments outweighing news that new government drug pricing would hit revenues.

Financials Lift HK shares, Shanghai Slips on Rate Fears

Chinese shares skidded as talk of interest rate increases and further policy tightening by Beijing kept investors on the back foot despite some analysts saying the chances of a rate rise over the weekend were slim.

The weak mainland market weighed on Hong Kong's bourse although the strong momentum in financials seen in recent sessions helped the benchmark Hang Seng Index tip over into positive territory.

The Shanghai Composite Index sank 1.3 percent at the finish, led by weakness in large-cap shares such as banks.

Speculation of policy action has often emerged on Fridays as the central bank tends to announce its decisions at the weekend. Many of the 16 banks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell, with China Everbright Bank, the second most active stock on the Shanghai market, down 2.4 percent, and Agricultural Bank of China off 0.75 percent.

Bucking the trend, pharmaceutical companies outperformed amid concern about rising flu cases in the country. Guilin Layn Natural Ingredients and Shanghai Furen Industrial both soared.

Financial issues in Hong Kong have been the subject of renewed interest this week, leading the benchmark to four successive days of gains as investors bet that reasonable valuations and strong earnings would help the laggard sector catch up.

HSBC rose 0.2 percent on over 2 times its average 30-day traded volume. BOC Hong Kong rose 3 percent, while ICBC rose 1 percent.

Property counters rose. led by Cheung Kong, up 2.8 percent to HK$134.50, after brokerage Morgan Stanley raised its price target to HK$150 and reiterated its "overweight" rating on the industry bellwether.

Tsingtao Brewery fell 3.3 percent, extending losses from the previous session on heavy volume over fears that escalating food prices would cut into the company's profit margins. The company faces rising barley and sugar costs as prices of agricultural commodities rise across the globe.

Property Plays Drag Singapore Lower

Singapore's Straits Times Index closed 0.3 percent lower as property firms fell after the government introduced new measures to cool home prices that have continued to rise despite earlier efforts to put a lid on the real estate market.

City Developments lost 4.6 percent and Wing Tai Holdings retreated 4.5 percent. CapitaLand fell 3.4 percent.

The KL Composite gave up 0.1 percent at the finish.