Asian stocks slide as oil falters

HONG KONG - Asian stocks were mostly lower on Wednesday, tracking declines on Wall Street as crude oil extended losses after Saudi Arabia ruled out freezing production, saying market forces should be allowed to work.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.9 per cent to 15,915.79 as investors seeking haven in the yen pushed it higher, hurting shares of the country's big exporters. South Korea's Kospi edged 0.1 per cent lower to 1,912.53 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.4 per cent to 19,146.54. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China rose 0.7 per cent to 2,920.98. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slid 2.1 per cent to 4,875.00. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines also lost ground.

CRUDE CONCERNS: Saudi Arabia's oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi, told a meeting of energy leaders in Houston on Monday that output cuts aimed at boosting slumping crude prices won't work. He said that the market should instead let some operators go out of business. Crude oil tumbled more than 4 per cent. The long term drop in oil prices, which are hovering around $30 a barrel after tumbling from more than $100 in mid-2014, has sliced into profits at energy companies. It's also now starting to hurt income at big U.S. banks as higher-cost producers struggle to repay loans taken out during the boom.

ANALYST INSIGHT: "The disappearance of risk appetite after last week's positive performance can be traced to bad news around oil once again," said Bernard Aw, market strategist at IG.

GLOBAL ECONOMY: Worries about the world economy are also weighing on investors' minds. Singapore and Hong Kong both reported Wednesday that growth slowed last year and their governments forecast further weakness for 2016 on softer global demand for their exports and services. Meanwhile, China's currency slipped as the central bank guided its exchange rate lower for the second day in a row.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude futures skidded 69 cents, or 2.2 per cent, to $31.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.52, or 4.6 per cent, to settle at $31.87 a barrel on Monday. Brent crude, which is used to price oils internationally, fell 43 cents, or 1.3 per cent, to $32.85 a barrel in London.

WALL STREET: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.1 per cent to 16,431.78 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 1.3 per cent to 1,921.27. The Nasdaq composite fell 1.5 per cent to 4,503.58.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 111.92 yen from 111.97 yen in the previous day's trading. The euro weakened to $1.1011 from $1.1018.



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