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Asia: Stocks track Wall Street as oil rout hits confidence

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[HONG KONG] A sense of unease spread across Asian stock exchanges Thursday with investors spooked by the sharp sell-off in oil sending most regional markets lower.

With crude sitting around seven-year lows energy firms came under further pressure, following more losses on Wall Street.

"Today is all about risk-off moves. Oil is still excessively low at this price - concerns this will be the status quo is making investors avoid risk for now," Mitsushige Akino, executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News.

While oil prices edged up in early Asian trade, the gains were marginal compared with the losses of around nine per cent suffered since the OPEC cartel on Friday decided against cutting output despite a global glut and weak demand.

Depressed crude prices continue to hurt some energy stocks, with Sydney-listed Woodside Petroleum down 1.4 per cent, Origin 1.9 per cent lower and Oil Search off more than two per cent.

In Hong Kong, CNOOC eased 1.7 per cent. However, bargain-buying also provided some support with PetroChina up in Hong Kong and Inpex in Tokyo ticking higher.

Japan's Nikkei index slipped 1.3 per cent by lunch, Sydney slipped 1.6 per cent and Seoul was 0.1 per cent off, while Hong Kong also edged down.

The falls followed a sell-off on Wall Street that saw all three indexes end in the red.

Shanghai bucked the trend, however, to rise 0.5 per cent on hopes that a string of recent weak economic data will lead Beijing to unveil a fresh round of stimulus measures.

The dollar was struggling to make up ground against most of its rivals, with an expected Federal Reserve hike in borrowing costs next week largely priced in.

The euro held its gains against the greenback after breaking US$1.1 in US trade, with last week's below-forecast stimulus from the European Central Bank providing support.

The Australian dollar rallied one per cent after another surprisingly good jobs report eased talk of another rate cut by Canberra.

And the New Zealand dollar added 0.3 per cent on talk that Thursday's rate cut to a record low by Wellington would be the last for some time. South Korea's won put on 0.4 per cent as the country left its own borrowing costs unchanged.

AFP