Asian markets struggled on Friday despite Wall Street benchmarks climbing overnight, with traders wary of possible volatility trailing the release of upcoming US economic data.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed at fresh records Thursday after another fall in applications for unemployment benefits, while trade balance figures contained hints of an end to supply chain snarls that have driven up prices.

But gains on other bourses were limited, with traders awaiting US payroll data on Friday for an indication of when Washington will begin to taper coronavirus support measures and put the brakes on inflation, portending a volatile session when New York re-opens.

"The first headless chicken move by markets in the 30 minutes after the numbers is, more often than not, the wrong one," said OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley.

"Thankfully, Asia will have the entire weekend to pick the bones from the smoking ruins of the New York session and make more level-headed assessments," he added.

Broader sentiment has also been dampened by the global spread of the Delta coronavirus variant, said Tapas Strickland of National Australia Bank.

"Delta concerns remain, though markets continue to view it more in the window of delay rather than derail given the high efficacy of vaccines," he added.

"Nevertheless, a number of US companies have pushed back the date when they expect most workers to return to offices given the spread of delta."

Hong Kong finished down 0.1 percent on weakness in banking shares, though Tencent was up nearly four percent to pare the week's losses after signs of a regulatory crackdown on the online gaming industry by Beijing.

Fellow entertainment company Nintendo was among the biggest losers on the Tokyo exchange, diving more than seven percent after reporting a worse-than-expected quarterly profit.

The Nikkei was up 0.3 percent at the close while Shanghai was down 0.2 percent.

Sydney closed up 0.4 percent despite city authorities reporting a record number of new Covid infections and warning residents to brace for worse to come, with around two-thirds of Australia's population now in virus lockdown.

Investors there were buoyed by optimistic Reserve Bank comments forecasting an economic recovery when virus restrictions were eased.

London and Frankfurt were both down in morning trade.

Investor sentiment has been dampened by the global spread of the Delta coronavirus variant
Investor sentiment has been dampened by the global spread of the Delta coronavirus variant AFP / Behrouz MEHRI

Oil benchmarks meanwhile showed signs of modest upward movement with a report showing recent increases in US crude exports and other signs of recovery in coronavirus-hit markets.

"India posted twice as strong demand for US crude, implying once a country gets beyond the Delta variant, crude demand will surge quickly," said Edward Moya of OANDA.

India's economic bounce-back from its devastating Covid wave earlier this year has seen rising inflation but its central bank kept rates at record lows for a seventh straight month on Friday.

"A pre-emptive monetary policy response at this stage may kill the nascent and hesitant recovery that is trying to secure a foothold in extremely difficult conditions," Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das said.

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.3 percent at 27,820.04 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.1 percent at 26,179.40 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3458.23 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,108.79

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.72 yen from 109.46 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3921 from $1.3923

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1822 from $1.1846

Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.91 pence from 85.08 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.3 percent at $69.32 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.4 percent at $71.60 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.8 percent at 35,064.25 (close)