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Financials Sink Asia, Seoul Drops 3%, Tokyo Sheds 2%

Asian markets tumbled Tuesday with Japan and Australia losing 2 percent and South Korea tumbling 3 percent. Investor confidence waned in the region's financial sector, which faces high inflation, a stricter lending environment and massive volatility from overseas markets.

The U.S. dollar steadied near a record low against the euro after rising briefly Monday on the U.S. announcement of an emergency plan to support two struggling top mortgage lenders, but worries about economic growth and the financial system capped its rise.

Shares of megabanks in Japan took a beating. Japan's three largest banks -- Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group -- together had about 4.7
trillion yen ($44.3 billion) in debt issued by U.S. mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac , the Nikkei newspaper said.

Investors' willingness to take risks was further drained by a shift in focus from lending institutions that are believed to be too big to be allowed to fail, to ones that are small enough to collapse. Overnight the S&P U.S. financial sector index fell to the lowest in nearly a decade.

Add to all that oil prices, which have remained above $140 a barrel for six of the last eight days, and investors have increasingly abandoned stocks for the relative safety of assets like Japanese government bonds, whose benchmark 10-year yield hit a 2-month low.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average shed 2 percent, ending at a 3-½ month closing low, weighed down by bank shares. Exporters such as Canon and Fujitsu also dragged on the market, hit by a stronger yen and worries about a slowdown in the U.S. economy, one of the major destinations for their products.

Seoul shares dropped 3 percent, with financials such as Shinhan Financial Group tumbling after U.S. banks plummeted overnight on fears of further fallout from the credit crisis and high oil prices also hurting market sentiment.

Australian shares finished down 2 percent, at a two-year low, as financial firms such as National Australia Bank came under fresh pressure on worries about further fallout from credit markets. However, firm oil and gold prices lent support to the resource sector with companies such as Newcrest Mining on the advance, limiting overall losses.

Hong Kong stocks dived 3.8 percent, with Aluminum Corp of China tumbling 7.6 percent after analysts weighed in on its recent output cut, saying it will impact earnings adversely despite the resultant increases in the price of the commodity. Sinopec also took a hit after Morgan Stanley cut its rating on the stock to underweight from equalweight.

Singapore's Straits Times Index tumbled 2.5 percent with banks hardest hit. UOB, OCBC and DBS Group with all sharply lower.

China's Shanghai Composite Index also dropped sharply, down 3.5 percent. Shares in top Chinese lenders tanked, with the nation's biggest bank ICBC falling sharply, as investors fretted over their likely exposure to Fannie and Freddie.

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