Asian Stocks Nudge Higher as Oil Backs Down

Asian stocks traded higher as a pullback in oil prices calmed concerns that their recent surge could derail the global recovery, nudging investors back towards riskier assets.

Japan's stocks rose for the first time in four days. The benchmark Nikkei closed 0.7 percent higher. The broader Topix rose 0.8 percent.

Toyota Motor rose 2.2 percent in heavy volume after Credit Suisse upgraded it to "outperform" from "neutral" and raised its target price to 4,520 yen, citing its ability to continue cutting costs, according to a report obtained by Reuters.

The upgrade offset news that Toyota was recalling nearly 2.2 million more vehicles for a defect that could cause gas pedals to stick.

Elpida Memory rallied 6.4 percent after the world's No. 3 maker of DRAM memory said on Thursday it wanted to hike chip prices. It's Taiwan Depositary Receipts, which debuted on Friday, lagged its Tokyo shares. It rose as much as 4 percent before paring back those gains to close 1.9 percent higher.

Oil stocks such as Inpex and JX Holdings came under pressure on the retreat in oil prices. But Inpex did manage to eke out gains at the end of the session, closing up 0.4 percent.

Seoul shares edged up 0.7 percent after volatile trade on Friday, helped by a rebound in transporters and construction issues including Korean Air Line and Hyundai Engineering & Construction.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended up 0.7 percent at 1,963.43 points.

Hynix Semiconductor rose 4 percent after Japanese PC chip maker Elpida Memory said it was considering raising DRAM prices in March as demand grows.

Firm rises in automakers and construction issues also helped the market. Hyundai Motor rose 2.3 percent and Hyundai E&C advanced 6.5 percent.

Shares in Samsung Electronics fell 0.3 percent after its parent Samsung Group said on Friday it planned to set up a biopharmaceutical joint venture with initial capital of 300 billion won ($264.4 million).

SK Telecom outperformed for a second day after South Korea's top mobile carrier on Friday said it had decided to offer Apple's iPhone, confirming earlier media reports. The iPhone was previously carried exclusively by smaller rival KT Corp. Shares in SK Telecom rose 1.5 percent, but KT fell 0.6 percent.

Australian stocks broke a five-day losing streak on Friday. The S&P/ASX 200 clawed back to close 0.6 percent higher as concern about Middle East tensions eased and Origin Energy rallied on a liquefied natural gas deal.

Retailers also buoyed the market with Woolworths up 1.3 percent after delivering earnings ahead of expectations and rival supermarket owner Wesfarmers put on 2 percent.

Insurers also bounced back after recent losses following floods and storms in Queensland and this week's earthquake in New Zealand.

Suncorp rose 2.6 percent to A$8.61, while IAG added 1.1 percent and QBE closed 0.8 percent firmer.

But resources lost ground. Rio Tinto declined 0.4 percent and BHP Billiton closed 0.1 percent lower. Gold miner Newcrest finished the session 1.2 percent lower at A$38.63.

China's main stock index ended flat on Friday, as gains in banking shares such as Shenzhen Development Bank, which rose on strong earnings, were offset by weakness in gold miners.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended at 2,878.6 points, after a 0.3 percent rise on Thursday. It has fallen 0.7 percent this week.

Hong Kong stocks gained for the first time in four days, with investors scouting for bargains after the index slumped to a five-month closing low the previous day. The Hang Seng Index was up 2 percent.

Shares in Asia's No.3 insurer AIA Group jumped 6 percent after the insurer beat forecasts by posting a 54 percent jump in net profit.

AIA, the session's most actively traded stock, was up 6.2 percent.

Taiwan stocks ended up 0.68 percent on Friday, led by HTC and other tech exporters, amid hopes a weaker local currency will bring in forex gains and make them more competitive against Korean rivals.

But property firms slumped 3.85 percent after the finance ministry formally proposed a tax on investment properties as it moves to curb soaring real estate prices.

In Singapore, stocks rose 1.1 percent. Shares of Singapore Telecommunications, Southeast Asia's largest telecom firm extended gains, rallying 3.9 percent after Citigroup upgraded its rating to buy from hold.

Shares of AirAsia outperformed the Malaysian market. They surged 6.4 percent after the Malaysian budget carrier posted an eight-fold increase in fourth-quarter net profit.

The broader KLCI was mostly flat.

India's main stock index, the Sensex tracking its Asian peers higher. But it pared back early gains, up 0.6% by mid-day.

The FTSE CNBC 100 Index was up 1.3 percent.