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Asian Stocks Pare Losses as Oil Hits New High

Asian markets pared back losses, but were still closed in the red Thursday. Oil set fresh record highs and fears that stagflation will continue to hurt earnings and consumer spending dogged investors.

Crude oil prices continued their relentless rise, climbing to a record $144.57 a barrel in early Asian trade, up 50 percent this year as tensions grew between Israel and the world's fourth largest oil exporter Iran and supply fears boiled over.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average finished 0.2 percent lower to set its longest losing streak in more than half a century as worries about high oil prices and the global economy hit exporters such as Toyota Motor. The Nikkei fell for an 11th day and booked the longest losing streak since a 12-day stretch in May-June 1953.

South Korea's KOSPI closed 1 percent lower, continuing its bearish run to a sixth straight session after record oil prices added to inflation worries, but the index cut earlier losses after buying by institutions late in the session.

Australian shares shed 1.9 percent to close at a near two-year low, with top miners leading declines on growing worries about the impact of record oil prices on company profits and economic growth. Both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto dropped over 7 percent.

Hong Kong stocks fell 2.1 percent, despite a late morning rally by index heavyweights China Mobile and CNOOC as investors shopped for bargains. Ping An Insurance fell another 8.6 percent after Wednesday's 7.8 percent plunge as investors continued to dump the stock on rumors of a government probe into tax evasion, as reported by the official Xinhua news agency.

Singapore's Straits Times Index closed 0.9 percent lower. Commodities firm Noble Group plunged as much as 6.5 percent to an eight-week low after European coal prices declined the most in three years.

Chinese shares bounced sharply into positive territory, closing 2 percent higher, after the Shanghai Composite Index earlier tumbled near technical support, and as non-ferrous metals shares surged on strong gold, copper and aluminum prices. Jiangxi Copper soared its 10 percent daily limit after global copper prices hit a fresh record high on Wednesday, while Aluminum Corp of China was up over 3 percent as aluminum neared a four-month high.