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Asia: Markets fall on back of US declines

[HONG KONG] Asian stock markets fell across the board on Thursday largely on the back of declines in the US triggered by concerns over a strengthening dollar and falling oil prices.

The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, failed to buoy markets when it repeated its pledge to remain "patient" regarding the US's first interest rate increase since 2006, signalling a June move remains in play.

Tokyo shares dropped 0.54 per cent, Hong Kong fell 0.60 per cent, and Shanghai lost 1.00 per cent. Seoul declined 0.31 per cent, but Sydney was largely flat.

Oil prices falling below US$45 a barrel, close to their lowest level in six years, renewed concern of inflation slowing as well as declining global demand, have spooked investors who are already nervous about the impact of political uncertainty in Greece on the 19-member euro area.

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As a result, all three benchmark US indices fell. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 1.13 per cent, the broad-based S&P 500 slumped 1.35 per cent, and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.93 per cent.

"The risks surrounding international developments... are things like a global economic slowdown or lower inflation as represented by cheaper oil, and geopolitical risks triggered by the fall in oil prices," Mistushige Akino of Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. told Bloomberg News.

Oil prices edged higher in Asian trading but gains were capped amid fresh concern over the growing global supply glut as US crude reserves soared to a record high, analysts said.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for March delivery rose five cents to US$44.50, after suffering a sharp decline in New York, while Brent crude for March gained 11 cents to US$48.58.

Samsung Electronics, the world's largest smartphone maker, posted a 27 per cent decline in net profit for the fourth quarter Thursday, days after arch rival Apple reported the biggest corporate profit in history.

The South Korean tech giant also announced it was raising its dividend, while the profit fall was cushioned by a boom in high-margin chip sales that helped offset the downturn in the key mobile sector.

Samsung shares were hardly changed, edging down 2,000 won, or 0.07 per cent, to 1,376,000 in early trading in Seoul.

The dollar, meanwhile, was at US$1.1288 against the euro from $1.1284 in US trading. It was also at 117.99 yen, from 117.53 yen.

The euro was worth 133.21 yen from 132.62 yen.

Gold fetched US$1,279.95 an ounce, against US$1,287.20 late Wednesday.