Nikkei Edges Lower After Wednesday's Surge

Japan's Nikkei average edged lower on Thursday, after posting the biggest jump in two months the day before, as worries over an escalation of violence in Egypt nudged investors towards safer assets, offsetting strong U.S. jobs data.

Drops in high-tech stocks Panasonic and Ricoh after reporting October-December earnings also weighed on the market. But clothing store chain operator Fast Retailing jumped on sales gains for January.

Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak opened fire on protesters on the streets of Cairo, wounding seven, fanning concerns about Egypt. But a report showing U.S. private-sector employers added more jobs than expected in January lent support to the market.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 ended down 0.3 percent and the broader Topix shed 0.2 percent to 927.57.

This week marks the peak of Japan's corporate results reporting season for the October-December quarter. Bellwethers such as Sony and Japan's biggest bank by assets Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group reported after the bell.

Australian Shares Gain, Cylcone Pases
Australian stocks ended up 0.5 percent on Thursday to reach the highest close in more than a week, with insurers and banks gaining aftera major cyclone passed with less destruction than feared, miners gained and earnings results boosted select stocks.

Banking stocks gained, led by a 0.8 percent rise in ANZ Banking Group .

Insurance Australia Group advanced 3 percent and rival Suncorp gained 2.9 percent after Cyclone Yasi, one of the most powerful cyclones on record, slammed into Australia's northeast coast but so far wreaked less damage than feared.

QBE Insurance , Australia's biggest insurance group, put its shares on trading halt on Thursday, saying it would update the market by early Friday on "acquisition activity."

A media report said QBE is in talks to buy U.S. insurer Balboafrom Bank of America.Balboa could fetch $1.5 billion to $2 billion, said an investment banker not involved in the deal.

Airlines gained, Qantas Airways rising 3.9 percent to A$2.43 after it increased its international fuel surcharge and said 66 percent of its remaining fuel requirements this year were hedged

Virgin Blue rose 2.5 percent to A$0.41 after Australia's competition watchdog cleared the way for the country's no.2 airline to tie-up with Etihad Airways for five years.

New Zealand's NZX 50 index fell 0.1 percent to 3,349.9. Other markets in the region were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.