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Earnings releases bring mixed blessings to Asian equities

See Kit Tang
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Asian equity markets outside China traded higher on the final trading day of the week, following a halt in the sell-off in energy markets and as traders digest the raft of earnings releases in Tokyo and Seoul.

After touching a multi-year low, U.S. crude futures' front-month contract settled up 8 cents, at $44.53 a barrel. Front-month Brent showed a 70-cent gain at $49 a barrel.

Overnight, U.S. stocks bounced back from a two-day rout, buoyed by a reverse in the price of U.S. crude and strong job market data , which helped to offset dismal earnings from the likes of Alibaba and Qualcomm (QCOM). The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 1.3 percent, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite added 1 percent each.

Nikkei gains 0.4%

Japanese shares trimmed gains as dollar-yen fell below the 118 handle on Friday. The key Nikkei 225 index had finished 1.1 percent lower - its biggest one-day drop in two week - in the previous session, as a stronger currency and a slew of disappointing earnings took a toll on sentiment.

While inflation data released before the open eased in December for a fifth straight month, raising doubts about the Bank of Japan's (BOJ) 2 percent inflation target, markets appeared unaffected. The consumer price index (CPI) rose 2.5 percent in December from the year-ago period, government data showed on Friday, compared with Reuters' forecast for a rise of 2.6 percent and down from the 2.7 percent print in November. The world's third-largest economy also released other monthly indicators, including factory output, trade, jobs and household spending for the month of December.

Index heavyweight Softbank (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 9984.T-JP) languished more than 3 percent following a miss in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba 's quarterly revenue, in which the Japanese mobile carrier owns a 32.59 percent stake.

Toshiba rose 2.3 percent after reporting a jump in third-quarter net income. Broker giant Nomura also traded 1.5 percent higher, on the back of a surprise 45 percent leap in fourth quarter earnings to 70 billion yen - the highest in almost two years. Semiconductor manufacturer Advantest soared nearly 10 percent after increasing its profit and dividend forecasts for the year ending in March.

Corporate report cards will be handed in after market close, from the likes of Honda (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 7267.T-JP), Sumitomo (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 8053.T-JP) as well as Japan Airlines (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 9201.T-JP) and All Nippon Airways (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 9202.T-JP). Shares of the carmaker widened losses to 0.8 percent in the last hour of trading, as analysts forecast profits to fall 17 percent from a year earlier in the last three months of 2014.

Read More Cheap fuel poses new threat to Honda

Mainland indices down

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index plunged 1.6 percent to settle at a one-and-a-half-week low, with insurance firms among the top losers for the day. China Pacific Insurance (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1601-SZ) and China Life Insurance (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1628-SZ) slumped more than 5 percent each, while Ping An Insurance (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1318-SZ) shed 1.8 percent.

Train makers China CNR (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1299-SZ) and CSR (ASX:CSR-AU) retreated nearly 8 percent, respectively, while Daqin Railway closed down 4.3 percent. Brokerages extended losses, with Haitong Securities and Citic Securities reversing course to slip nearly 2 percent each.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index slipped 0.4 percent.

Read More China's anti-corruption campaign boosts suicide rate

ASX up 0.4%

Australia's benchmark S&P ASX 200 index finished at a more than 4-month high, chalking up a seven-session winning streak, supported by hopes of a rate cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) next Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Australian dollar (Exchange:USDAUD=) traded at $0.7766 to the greenback, having sunk to a multi-year low of $0.7720 overnight.

The banking sector traded broadly higher, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia rallying nearly 1 percent after hitting a record high in the previous session. National Australia Bank and ANZ Banking scaled up 0.4 and 0.2 percent, respectively, while Westpac pared gains to close down 0.5 percent.

The resources sector also saw a broad-based rally; Fortescue Metals was the top gainer, adding 5.8 percent, after leaping 10 percent on Thursday. Other big miners like Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO-AU) and BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP-AU) also climbed 0.9 and 1.1 percent, while oil-related counters including Santos (ASX:STO-AU) and Oil Search (ASX:OSH-AU) got a rare lift from overnight gains in crude prices, ending up 1.9 and 0.9 percent each.

Read More Asia outperforms world markets in January

Kospi flat

South Korean shares pared gains after briefly hitting a seven-and-a-half-week high at the open, as dismal corporate earnings curbed buoyant sentiment.

Posco (Korea Stock Exchange: 549-KR) skidded nearly 8 percent as a slowdown in its top consumer China kept steel prices weak, which weighed on the steelmaker's fourth-quarter operating profit. LG electronics - the world's number 2 TV maker - sagged 3 percent on the back of weaker-than-expected profit for the October-December period due to weak television earnings stemming from higher price competition and adverse exchange rate effects in markets like Brazil and Russia.

Amid the negative corporate releases, SK Telecom (Korea Stock Exchange: 1767-KR) bounced up nearly 2 percent after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit late Thursday. Samsung Electronics, the heaviest weighted stock on the Kospi index, rose 0.4 percent, recouping some of Thursday's losses due to a 36 percent on-year fall in fourth quarter profit .