Poor Earnings Push Asian Markets Lower

Asian stocks fell to a 1-1/2-month low Friday, weighed by poor corporate results in the technology sector. The Australian market was the worst hit, shedding 4 percent with financials leading the declines.

Oil prices slipped to $43 a barrel as a buildup in U.S. inventories reflected a lack of energy demand from struggling consumers and businesses. Samsung Electronics chalked up its first ever quarterly loss, following stark warnings from tech giants like Microsoft, Nokia and Sony, as consumers pull back severely on their spending on gadgets in the face of recessions in Britain, Europe, Japan and the United States. Fear drove demand for the greenback. The euro edged up against the dollar and the dollar strengthened against the yen.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average lost 3.8 percent to mark its lowest close in two months after Sony's warning of a massive loss fed fears about the electronics sector amid growing economic gloom at home and abroad. Steel firms tumbled after Nippon Steel announced production cuts, while oil-linked firms slid as oil headed down towards $43 a barrel.

South Korea's KOPSI closed down 2 percent with Samsung Electronics, the largest stock by market cap, shedding 4 percent after reporting weak quarterly results, while LG Electronics fell 5.7 percent, ending lower for a fourth straight session on outlook fears.

Australian stocks fell 4.1 percent to their lowest close since February 2004, with banks pummeled on pessimism over the world economy and miners hit on concern over weakening metals demand, especially from China. The top four banks fell between 6 and 7 percent, led by
Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, which ended 7.2 percent lower. It briefly dropped below A$12, for the first time since mid 2000. Concern over weakening metal demand, especially from China, sent shares in top miner BHP Billiton down 5.8 percent. Rival Rio Tinto fell 1.9 percent.

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Hong Kong shares eased 0.6 percent with short-covering in HSBC Holdings offsetting some of the pressure of more profit warnings from Chinese companies. Some investors stayed sidelined to avoid any further risk ahead of next week's Lunar New Year break.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was 1.4 percent weaker. But Keppel Corp. bucked the negative trend, up 1.5 percent, after it posted a 6.9 percent rise in full-year net profit but said 2009 would be a challenging year.

China's Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.7 percent on losses in U.S. stocks overnight and the weak forecast of corporate earnings for some major blue-chip stocks.