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Asian markets hit fresh lows but Shanghai outperforms

Asian indices were mostly lower on Wednesday as sluggish economic data from China spooked markets that were already under strain from political uncertainty in Greece and a rout in oil prices. However, Shanghai shares outperformed afternoon session to recoup nearly half of Tuesday's losses.

Further igniting "risk-off" sentiment was a mixed finish on Wall Street overnight, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 0.3 percent while the S&P 500 shed half a point to 2,059.82. However, the Nasdaq Composite outperformed to close up 0.5 percent.

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Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Mainland shares up

China's Shanghai Composite index reversed losses to finish more than 2 percent higher late Wednesday. Earlier on, Shanghai shares lost over 1 percent after worse-than-expected inflation numbers added to concerns of cooling activity in the world's second-largest economy. The consumer price index rose 1.4 percent from the year-ago period - the lowest reading since November, 2009 - below a Reuters forecast for a 1.6 percent increase.

The wholesale sector, meanwhile, remained entrenched in a deflationary spiral – the producer price index (PPI) fell 2.7 percent on year in November, worse than the 2.4 percent decline forecast.

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Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index crept up 0.4 percent. Shares of China's largest nuclear power producer CGN Power took the spotlight, surging 20 percent in their trading debut. By 1500 SIN/HK, the state-controlled company's stock traded at HK$3.330, compared with its IPO price of HK$2.78, retreating from the day's high of HK$3.48.

"I'm not surprised that it's up. At the end of the day, the institutional tranche was over subscribed by 20 times and the retail tranche was over subscribed by an amazing 280 times so it's a simple supply and demand," Philippe Espinasse, author of "IPO: A Global Guide", told CNBC.

Tokyo skids 2.3%

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index widened losses to finish at a near two-week low as the yen gained 0.6 percent to trade at 118.9 against the greenback.

Adding further pressure was a Japanese government survey released before the market opened which showed big Japanese manufacturers grew less optimistic in the October-December period and they see conditions worsening further in the following quarter.

Among top losers were Jtekt and Daiwa House Industry, which both tanked nearly 6 percent. Exporter stocks also dwindled; Sharp and Honda lost nearly 3 percent each.

Outperforming the bourse was Skymark Airlines, which advanced nearly 20 percent after news reports said the carrier was considering asking Japanese airline ANA for support.

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Sydney slips 0.5%

Australia's key S&P ASX 200 index pared losses to recover from the one-week low of 5,222 attained in the morning session.

Retailer stocks recovered modestly after sliding at the release of December's Australian consumer sentiment data. Myer erased losses to close little changed while Harvey Norman trimmed losses to finish 0.8 percent lower. Earlier in the session, a survey of 1,200 people by the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank showed a measure of Australian consumer sentiment dived a seasonally adjusted 5.7 percent in December, from November when it had risen 1.9 percent.

Oil stocks were mostly lower as Brent prices resumed its fall to hit $65.93 a barrel. Santos retreated nearly 1 percent while Woodside Petroleum erased losses to rebound 1.5 percent.

Banking stocks were the biggest losers for Wednesday; Westpac Bank and Macquarie Group lost 1.6 percent each.

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Seoul sinks 1.3%

South Korean stocks tracked Asia-wide losses to settle near a three-week low on Wednesday.

Index heavyweight Samsung Electronics fell over 2 percent while Posco fell 1.4 percent.