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Asian markets mostly lower, BHP down 9.4%

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Asian markets joined the slump in global equities on Wednesday, as the U.S. dollar strengthened and oil prices lost ground.

"Equity market sentiment seems to be rolling over globally as the wind begins to come out of the oil price rally," said Angus Nicholson, market analyst at spreadbetter IG, in a note Wednesday.

At 12:15 p.m. HK/SIN time, U.S. crude futures were trading flat at $43.60 a barrel, after settling down 2.5 percent overnight, while Brent futures were trading 0.22 percent lower at $44.87, after falling 1.9 percent overnight.

Helping to weigh oil and other commodities, the U.S. dollar advanced. A stronger greenback pressures commodity prices, which are denominated in dollars.

In Sydney, the ASX 200 closed down 1.55 percent, or 82.74 points at 5,271.1, weighed by losses in the energy subindex, down 5.11 percent, and the materials subindex, which was lower by 5.91 percent.

The mainland Chinese markets closed flat, with the Shanghai composite down 0.05 percent, or 1.5412 points at 2,991.1 and Shenzhen composite down 0.021 percent, or 0.397 points at 1,928.632.

Across the Korean strait, the Kospi closed down 0.49 percent, or 9.7 points at 1,976.71. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index shed 0.86 percent, at 3:11 p.m. HK/SIN.

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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Major resource producers were lower, with shares of Rio Tinto falling 7.54 percent, while Fortescue Metals was down 4.86 percent.

Fortescue Metals Group CEO Nev Power said on Wednesday that he expects iron ore prices to stabilize, as China attempts to curb commodity market speculation, which had resulted in iron ore future prices rallying. Iron ore China import prices are currently trading at $62.50 per tonne.

BHP Billiton shares tumbled 9.36 percent as investors digested news of a 155 billion real ($43 billion) civil lawsuit against iron miner Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton for a dam spill which killed 19 people and polluted a major river in Brazil in November, Reuters reported.

In the currency market, the dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of currencies, was trading at 93.173 at 12:15 p.m. HK/SIN time, firming after dipping under 92 overnight, tapping the lowest levels since January 2015. Overnight, the Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart reaffirmed that the Federal Reserve would not back-peddle on policy and that two rate hikes were certainly possible.

The Australian dollar/U.S. dollar pair traded at 0.7499 as of 12:15 p.m. HK/SIN time. That's down from levels a tad above 0.77 Tuesday afternoon before the Reserve Bank of Australia surprised markets by announcing a 25 basis point interest rate cut to a record low 1.75 percent.

The yen retraced some of its sharp advance over the past few sessions, with the dollar-yen pair trading at 107.24 at 12:15 p.m. HK/SIN time. That followed the pair tapping its lowest levels since October 2014, when the Bank of Japan launched its second massive round of quantitative easing. The pair dipped as low as 105.66 overnight, down from levels over 111.50 yen last week.

The frenetic movements in the dollar-yen pair is "the obvious Golden Week liquidity trap," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA Asia Pacific, in a note on Wednesday. Markets in Japan have been closed for holidays this week, leading to low volume and low liquidity. Innes expects that with a massive buildup of short positions in the dollar-yen pair, a short squeeze, when traders are forced to cover their positions, is likely.

The stronger yen has weighed on Japan's shares, with the benchmark index there falling around 8 percent since last week when the Bank of Japan surprised markets by holding its policy steady.

Japan's Nikkei 225 last traded on Monday, when it closed down 3.1 percent; the market was closed Tuesday for the Constitution Day holiday and is closed Wednesday for the Greenery day public holiday.

Major U.S. indexes closed mixed, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.78 percent, the S&P 500 finishing 0.87 percent lower and the Nasdaq composite down 1.13 percent, its lowest close since March 14.

-- Reuters contributed to this report

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