Asian equities largely recovered from the week's rout on Wednesday, brushing off continued weakness in the oil markets and a financial crisis brewing in Russia, as investors look ahead to the Federal Reserve's monthly meeting.
"Asia is experiencing some mixed moves ahead of the results from the FOMC meeting," wrote IG market strategist Stan Shamu. "There is a lot for investors to digest at the moment but the dominant theme is nervous trading in emerging markets as the Fed is tipped to switch to a hawkish bias."
Wall Street will hear from the Fed on Wednesday, with focus on whether the central bank reiterates its vow to maintain rates low for a considerable period. The nursed its losses in Asian trading on Wednesday, pulling away from lows hit overnight on speculation that the central bank might take a more cautious tone on monetary policy.
Brent crude dropped below $60 a barrel on Wednesday, hovering near its lowest in five years as a supply glut dragged down prices. U.S. crude for January delivery dropped 97 cents to $54.96 a barrel after touching the lowest since May 2009 at $53.60 on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Bank of Thailand is due to announce its policy decision later in the session and is expected to hold rates steady.
Wall Street overnight
U.S. stocks fell for a sixth session in seven overnight, as traders tracked the price of oil and pondered the impact of lower energy costs and Russia's economic troubles on the Federal Reserve's policy decisions. The dropped 0.7 percent while the S&P 500 shed 0.9 percent. The tech-heavy declined 1.2 percent.
Mainland bourses mixed
Chinese equities finished near a one-week session high late Wednesday, chalking up a two-day winning streak as the banking sector made gains.
Financials have driven the mainland rally in recent weeks, allowing the benchmark Shanghai Composite index to rocket 2.3 percent amid Tuesday's regional slump. Citic Securities and Minsheng Bank rose the maximum allowable 10 percent while Haitong Securities and Hua Xia Bank bolstered 8.3 and 7.4 percent.
Meanwhile, the yuan held steady against the dollar on Wednesday, after the central bank set its daily midpoint at a fresh 10-month high.
In Hong Kong, the key Hang Seng index inched down 0.2 percent to touch its lowest levels since October 3.
Geely Automobile traded 17 percent lower after warning that its 2014 net profit will be hit by foreign exchange losses from its Russian operations and a sharp fall in sales in its major export markets.
Trading in Li Ning shares, which were suspended on December 12, resumed today. The Chinese sports brand plunged over 10 percent after announcing plans to raise up to $218 million in an open offer of shares.
Nikkei rises 0.4%
Exporters were largely higher; Honda Motor reversed opening losses to add 0.9 percent despite a local newspaper said the carmaker is set to add over $168 million to expenses for air bag related recalls this financial year. But Panasonic and Nikon remained lackluster, losing 1.2 and 0.8 percent each.
On Tuesday, Tokyo shares ended at a five-week low, but traders said the correction likely run its course. "The technicals in the market are the real support for us today, with the Nikkei now propped up by its 50-day moving average of 16,554.52," Gavin Perry, managing director of Parry International Trading told Reuters.
ASX adds 0.2%
Australian stocks backed down from an intra-day peak of 5,191 points to close marginally higher for the first time in six sessions, as a rebound in the resources sector helped the benchmark S&P ASX 200 index to shake off bearish sentiment that has dogged the market for the past weeks.
Miners overlooked iron ore prices at five-year lows to rise; Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton closed up 1.4 and 0.4 percent each. After extensive losses in the past sessions, Santos advanced 4.3 percent while Oil Search and Woodside Petroleum climbed 3.4 and 3 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Australian dollar fell 0.4 percent to a four-and-a-half-year low of 8,148 U.S. cents.
Kospi falls 0.2%
South Korean shares fell below the flatline in the last hour of trade on Wednesday as declines in blue-chip heavyweights offset a robust performance in the utility sector.
Automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors lost 3.2 and 4.6 percent each while Samsung Electronics sold off 1 percent. The country's largest electric utility Kepco rose 1.6 percent while Kepco Plant S&E notched up 1.1 percent on speculation that there may be a cut in electricity fees.
Meanwhile, the won fell from a six-week high to trade at 1,094 to the greenback, compared to Tuesday's session close of 1,086.