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Asia: Markets mostly lower after Wall St losses

[HONG KONG] Asia markets mostly fell Wednesday following a retreat on Wall Street fuelled by profit-taking, with Tokyo hit by a stronger yen and Sydney dipping after data showed Australia's economy grew slower than expected last year.

With few trading cues investors are keeping a watch on the start of China's annual parliament meeting Thursday as well as European Central Bank details on its new bond-purchase scheme.

Tokyo slid 1.01 per cent, Sydney shed 0.56 per cent, Hong Kong lost 0.24 per cent and Seoul eased 0.13 per cent. Shanghai, which tumbled 2.20 per cent Tuesday, edged up 0.21 per cent.

"The lack of fresh sparks has prompted investors to take profits and wait for new signals," Matthew Sherwood, Sydney-based head of investment markets research at Perpetual Ltd, told Bloomberg News.

Dealers took their lead from New York, where the three main indexes - which have been on a six-year bull run - ticked downwards after hitting key levels.

The Dow fell 0.47 per cent and the S&P 500 slipped 0.45 per cent, both a day after hitting new records. The Nasdaq slipped 0.56 per cent after breaking 5,000 points for the first time in 15 years.

Tokyo led Asia's losers as the yen recovered slightly from recent losses against the dollar, with the greenback easing to 119.54 yen Wednesday from 119.74 yen in New York Tuesday afternoon.

The euro bought US$1.1179 and 133.63 yen against US$1.1178 and 133.85 yen.

In Australia official figures showed the economy grew 0.5 per cent on-quarter in the three months to December and 2.5 per cent over the whole of 2014 - below forecasts of 0.7 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively.

The news comes a day after the Reserve Bank of Australia held off cutting interest rates for a second-straight month, but analysts say it will likely act again soon as jobless queues become longer and consumers stop spending.

Focus will next turn to the meeting of China's rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress, at which Premier Li Keqiang is expected to deliver an address on the state of the economy.

Later in the day the ECB will hold its next policy meeting and outline details of the asset-purchase programme that it is launching in a bid to kickstart the eurozone economy and fight off deflation.

Oil prices dipped ahead of the release of a key US energy inventory report later in the day. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell one cent to US$50.51 while Brent crude eased 26 cents to US$60.76.

Prices rose Tuesday on news of growing unrest in exporter Libya.

Gold fetched US$1,205.15 against US$1,207.80 late Tuesday.

AFP