Nikkei shrugs off weak data to hit new highs; rest of Asia mixed

Asian equity markets were mixed early on Friday, following an uninspiring lead from Wall Street amid lower oil prices. However, Japanese stocks brushed off a raft of weaker-than-expected data to clinch fresh 15-year highs. Overnight, U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed, with stocks near recent highs, as concerns about oil prices and a worse-than-expected initial jobless claims figure weighed on investor sentiment. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished flat, while the S&P 500 closed down 0.2 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite outperformed to settle 0.4 percent higher. Global oil prices dropped on Thursday amid ample global supply and increasing U.S. commercial inventories. U.S. crude settled $ 2.82 lower at $ 48.17 a barrel, while benchmark Brent crude fell $ 1.60 to $ 60 a barrel.

Nikkei adds 0.3% Japanese shares brushed off weaker-than-expected economic data to touch their highest level since June 2000, with the help of a weaker yen. The benchmark Nikkei 225 index has closed at new 15-year highs in four out of the past five trading sessions. Among the raft of data released before market open, the closely-watched consumer inflation eased for a sixth straight month in January, pushing the Bank of Japan further from its 2 percent target. Stripping out the effects of a sale tax hike, the nationwide consumer price index (CPI) rose a less-than-expected 0.2 percent, down from 0.5 percent in December. Advances in the dollar-yen buoyed exporter stocks; Mitsubishi Electric (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6503.T-JP) led gains among the blue-chips, with a rise 0.7 percent. Toyota Motor (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 7203.T-JP) gained 0.4 percent, while Sony (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6758.T-JP) and Toshiba (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6502.T-JP) elevated 0.3 percent.

Read More Konnichiwa, Prince William! The Duke en route to Japan ASX falls 0.4% Australia’s S&P ASX 200 index pulled back early trade amid a mixed picture in the resources sector. Miners were broadly lower, with BHP Billiton (London Stock Exchange: BLT-GB) and Fortescue Metals (ASX:FMG-AU) slipping 0.7 and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Energy producers were also hurt by lower oil prices overnight; Santos and Oil Search (ASX:OSH-AU) lost nearly 1 percent each, while Woodside Petroleum (ASX:WPL-AU) shed 0.3 percent. The earnings season enters its final day in Sydney today and attention is on index heavyweight Woolworths (ASX:WOW-AU). The grocer plunged 8.4 percent following its announcement of a change in senior leadership and warning that full-year earnings will come at the bottom end of consensus estimates. Wine firm Treasury Wine Estates recouped losses to notch up 0.6 percent after swinging back to a profit in the first half.

Kospi slips 0.1% South Korea’s Kospi index drifted lower at the open, led by index heavyweights. Steelmaker Posco (Korea Stock Exchange: 549-KR) slumped 1.3 percent, while the top two heaviest weighted stocks Samsung Electronics (Korea Stock Exchange: 593-KR) and Hyundai Motor (Korea Stock Exchange: 538-KR) opened down 0.3 percent each. Oil-related counters were among the hardest-hit; SK Innovation (Korea Stock Exchange: 9677-KR) and S-Oil (Korea Stock Exchange: 1095-KR) lost more than 2 percent each.

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