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Asian stocks slump, Tokyo leads losses


[HONG KONG] Asian markets fell on Monday as oil remained near five-year lows, while investors in Japan shrugged off Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decisive re-election and focused instead on the faltering economy.

Sydney shed 0.64 percent as a hostage crisis erupted in the heart of the city, with terrified people cowering inside a cafe where an Islamic flag was displayed against a window, sparking a security lockdown in an area home to government and corporate headquarters.

Stocks on the Australian market dropped 33.5 points to close at 5,186.1, while in Tokyo the Nikkei 225 index closed down 1.57 per cent, or 272.18 points, at 17,099.40.

Seoul finished flat, falling 1.35 points to 1,920.36.

Market voices on:

In afternoon trade Hong Kong lost 1.14 per cent while Shanghai was up 0.31 per cent.

Tokyo slipped after Mr Abe's widely expected election win in a snap poll on Sunday that he had billed as a referendum on his economic policies.

"The elections are a net plus for the market, but really came as no surprise and thus are not likely to be a very large factor in today's trading," said Nomura Securities equity market strategist Junichi Wako.

"Analysts are essentially back to where they were before - hoping for a thorough fleshing out of Mr Abe's plan to revitalise the economy," he told Dow Jones Newswires.

Investors were also focused on the Bank of Japan's quarterly Tankan survey that showed confidence among major Japanese manufacturers edged down in the three months to December.

The slide in Asian markets comes after crashing oil prices dragged US stocks to one of their worst losses of the year on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.79 per cent and the S&P 500 tumbled 1.62 per cent. It was the S&P 500's first weekly loss in nearly two months and its worst single-week decline - 3.5 per cent - since May 2012.

Oil prices bounced back somewhat in Asian trade Monday but remained near five-year lows.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate rose 49 US cents to US$58.30 while Brent gained 68 US cents to US$62.53 in afternoon trade, reversing losses in both contracts in early trading.

Lower oil prices benefit consumers, but traders have been unnerved by the speed of the freefall in crude prices, which could put projects on hold in the oil sector and hurt energy companies and banks.

Oil prices have plunged more than 50 per cent since June.

On forex markets the dollar was lower, buying 118.23 yen in early Monday trade against 118.79 yen in New York on Friday afternoon.

The euro fell to 147.31 yen from 148.05 yen and to US$1.2453 from US$1.2464 in US trade.

Gold was at US$1,218.60 an ounce at 0640 GMT compared with US$1,225.00 late Friday.

In other markets: - Wellington fell 0.29 per cent, or 15.88 points, to 5,499.07.

Fletcher Building was off 0.62 per cent at NZ$8.05 and Air New Zealand was down 1.21 per cent at NZ$2.44.