Asia Mostly Higher to end Friday

Major Asian markets clawed back slight gains on Friday after finishing slightly lower in the last session, with most major indexes in the region tracking the strong lead from Wall Street.

The Nikkei 225 average in Japan lost 56.61 points, or 0.2%, to 23,653.82, with declines seen in major automakers and technology names: Toyota shed 0.7% Honda lost 1.4% and Sony fell 1.1% by the end of the day.

The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong ballooned 292.15 points, or 0.9%, to 31,412.54

Asian markets have had a solid start to the New Year, with major indexes, such as the Nikkei 225, climbing more than 2.5% in the month.

The Hang Seng Index traded within sight of its all-time high.

Shares of Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing, the most heavily-weighted stock on the Nikkei index, soared 6% after the company announced record profit numbers on Thursday. Operating profit at the company rose 28.6%, with international revenues contributing more to total sales than local sales for the first time.

Nomura maintained its buy rating and raised its target price for Fast Retailing from 51,000 yen to 56,500 yen ($507.69 U.S.) per share following the latest set of results.

Korean markets nicked higher. Still, heavyweight technology names were mostly lower by the end of the day: Samsung Electronics closed off by 0.1%, but was off session lows, and LG Electronics lost 0.9%.

Steelmakers and financials, however, notched gains. Posco rose 5.5% and Hyundai Steel advanced 1.9% by the end of the session.

Cryptocurrency-linked plays in South Korea were mixed after tumbling in the last session when a top official said a bill was being readied to ban cryptocurrency trading within the country.

The justice ministry later followed up, saying it would only move ahead after "careful consideration." On Friday, Kakao closed flat and Vidente plunged 8.6%. Trade in Omnitel was choppy, with the stock ending higher by 1.4%.

Down Under, markets barely broke even as the materials sector outperformed the broader market. Major miners Rio Tinto and BHP saw gains of 1.7% and 2.2%, respectively.

The Australian dollar, which tends to be sensitive to China data, was softer after the miss in China December import numbers. The Aussie dollar last traded at $0.7888 U.S., compared to the $0.789 handle seen earlier.

Against the yen, the U.S. dollar traded at 111.27.

CHINA

In Shanghai, the CSI 300 regained 19.41 points, or 0.5%, to 4,225

This followed the release of China trade data on Friday, which showed that December imports in dollar terms rose 4.5% compared to the previous year, missing the 13 percent forecast in an economist poll. Dollar-denominated December exports, meanwhile, rose 10.9%, beating the poll's 9.1% projection.

For all of 2017, dollar-denominated exports rose 7.9% and imports rose 15.9%.

In other markets

The Kospi in Korea recovered 8.51 points, or 0.3%, to 2,496.42

In Taiwan, the Taiex Index recouped 73.9 points, or 0.7%, to 10,883.96

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index gained 7.88 points, or 0.2%, to 3,520.56

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 fell 8.09 points, or 0.1%, to 8,242.35

In Australia, the ASX 200 picked up 2.43 points to 6,070.05