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Asia End Mostly Lower; Shanghai Slips 2%

Asian stock markets were mostly lower on Thursday afternoon, led by Shanghai's 2 percent slide.

The Fed on Wednesday left the benchmark interest rate near zero as expected and reaffirmed they will be low for some time, but it also reminded markets that it will let most of its special liquidity facilities expire by early next year.

China's key stock index dropped 2.34 percent to its lowest close in three weeks. Blue chips fell as prospects for heavy new share supplies steadily eroded sentiment while investors booked profits from the buoyant consumer sector in the run-up to the year-end.

The Shanghai Composite Index ended at 3,179.078 points, slipping for a third day in a row.

China Shipbuilding Industry sank 6.63 percent to 7.75 yuan after gaining 12.47 percent in a lukewarm market debut on Wednesday, leaving it vulnerable to a drop below its IPO price of 7.38 yuan in the near term.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average finished 0.1 percent lower on Thursday, slipping from seven-week highs hit earlier in the day, as investors booked profits on a rally in big banks.

The benchmark index edged down 13.61 points to 10,163.80, after earlier rising as high as 10,260.12, its highest level since Oct. 27. The broader Topix slipped 0.2 percent at 896.28.

Most banking shares took a breather after surging the previous day on a report that global banking regulators are eyeing an effective delay to the implementation of new capital rules.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group shed 1.28 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, the third-ranked bank, closed 1.49 percent lower. Mizuho Financial Group, Japan's second-biggest bank, rose 2.2 percent before paring gains to 0.55 percent.

Some exporters offered support to the index, as the yen weakened against the dollar, hovering near the psychologically important 90 yen per dollar level. TDK advanced 1.3 percent and Advantest, a maker of chip testing devices, gained 1.6 percent to 2,185 yen.

Mazda Motor ended 2.4 percent higher, lifted by a local media report that Japan's fifth-largest automaker will reach a formal agreement with Toyota Motor by the end of March to work together in hybrid technology.

Japan's top lender Sharp lost early gains to slip 0.1 percent. The stock first rose after a media report said it would supply LCD TV panels to Philips as early as next year.

Seoul shares closed 1 percent lower in light trading, led by losses in banks and brokerages on profit-taking.

Financials came under pressure, including KB Financial Group, whichlost 2.25 percent.

Shares in Ssangyong Motor were suspended after a court's approval of the struggling automaker's rescue plan.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) finished down 0.99 percent at 1,647.84 points.

Australian stocks finished Thursday barely higher after a slide in National Australia Bank wiped out most of the benchmark index's gains.

NAB's unexpected $12 billion offer for insurer AXA Asia Pacific, trumping a bid led by AMP, sparked heavy activity in the market after weeks of thin volumes.

NAB shares fell 4.7 percent to A$26.65, with some fund managers saying it was offering a hefty price for AXA Asia Pacific and could use its capital better by buying cheap banks in
Britain.

AXA shares leapt 12.7 percent to A$6.37, trading just below NAB's offer of A$6.43. AMP shares rose 4.1 percent to A$6.35.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.2 percent or 8.4 points at 4,670.3.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index eased 0.3 percent to 3,122.9.

Shares in Woodside Petroleum resumed trade after completing a heavily subscribed A$2.5 billion ($2.24 billion) entitlement offer, rising to as high as A$47.07 before ending down 0.2 percent at A$46.70. The shares were offered at A$42.10.

Index heavyweight BHP Billiton rose 0.9 percent to A$41.41 and Rio Tinto rose 1.2 percent to A$71.65, helped by higher metals prices on optimism over demand for commodities.

Hong Kong stocks slid 1.5 percent as banking issues, while investors fretted about a share sale by Belle International and weighed up other companies' need for cash.

Bank of Communications shed 2.6 percent and Bank of East Asia lost 3.3 percent but Standard Chartered bucked the trend, gaining 0.9 percent.

Belle International, a retailer of ladies footwear, fell as much as 8 percent to a one-week low at HK$9.16 and was the most actively traded stock in Hong Kong after the firm said it was selling 253.25 million shares at HK$9.20 per share.

Chinese crude oil and natural gas producer CNPC rose 2.8 percent at HK$9.70 and was one of the most actively traded stocks in Hong Kong after the company said its subsidiary has signed a cooperation agreement with Ningbo Port to provide liquefied natural gas refueling services.

MOBI Development, which makes wireless communication antennas in China, traded at HK$3.70 on its market debut, 9.5 percent above its IPO price of HK$3.38.

In South-east Asia, the Straits Times Index ended flat while the KL Composite fell 0.2 percent.

Singapore Airlines shares shed 0.7 percent despite news it would redeploy its routes in order to achieve better operational performance.

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