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Asia stocks mostly lower on Greece, oil; PBoC in focus

Nyshka Chandran

Asia stocks closed mostly lower on Thursday as monetary stimulus from the People's Bank of China failed to lift sentiment amid uncertainty over Greece and oil.

Late on Wednesday, the Chinese central bank reduced reserve requirements for banks by 50 basis points for the first time in two years. The move marked a change from the central bank's previous low-profile attempts to increase liquidity and follows the trend of global monetary stimulus seen in the past month.

"We think the impact [of the RRR cut] on the real economy is positive but it is not enough to stabilize the economy, as it helps to raise loan supply but loan demand may remain weak. We expect more easing measures to come, such as another RRR cut of 50bps in Q2," Deutsche Bank economists said in a note.

Worries about Greek debt were in focus after the European Central Bank (ECB) banned the use of Greek government bonds as collateral for ECB cash on Wednesday, saying "it is unable to assume a successful end to the Greek government's bailout talks."

Meanwhile, oil prices remained a source of market volatility with Brent crude swinging between gains and losses in the Asian session.

Shanghai down 1.2%

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite (Shanghai Stock Exchange: .SSEC) index reversed gains after jumping as much as 2 percent following the central bank's RRR cut.

Banks closed lower following a 4 percent rally earlier; Agricultural Bank of China (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1288-SZ) and China Construction Bank (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1939-SZ) fell over 1 percent each.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index (Hong Kong Stock Exchange: .HSI) traded flat after rallying over 1 percent earlier.

Nikkei down 1%

Japan's benchmark index retreated from the previous session's 2 percent rally, its biggest daily gain in over two weeks, on the back of weak quarterly earnings reports.

Hitachi plunged 10 percent after operating profit dropped 1 percent on year, Mazda Motor (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 7261.T-JP) skidded nearly 3 percent after posting a 5 percent drop in earnings.

Sony (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6758.T-JP) closed 12 percent higher after the electronics firm reported that profits more than tripled, saying its annual net loss will be smaller than projected.

ASX 0.6% higher

Australian shares jumped to a seven-year high, reversing earlier losses and extending gains into an eleventh session.

Banks underpinned gains with National Australia Bank (ASX:NAB-AU) up 1.3 percent after reporting that net profit rose to A$1.8 billion in the last three months of 2014, lower than A$1.4 billion a year ago. Australia New Zealand Banking also rose 1 percent while Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA-AU) jumped 2.6 percent.

Kospi slips 0.5%

South Korea's benchmark Kospi (Korea Stock Exchange: .KS11) index moved off a two-month high hit in the previous session, weighed down by a 5 percent fall in Shinhan Financial (Korea Stock Exchange: 5555-KR). The company, one of Korea's largest financial groups, reported a 7.7 percent annual decline in fourth-quarter net profit.