Asian Markets Suffer Late Session Selloff

Asian markets took a tumble late in the session Wednesday, as selling accelerated causing stocks to slump. Japan closed down over 1 percent after trading flat for most of the session.

Sentiment in Seoul was slightly better after former U.S. President Bill Clinton secured the release of two U.S. journalists jailed by North Korea. But the market later shrugged off the news as analysts said it would not ease tension between South Korea and its neighbor.

The Australian dollar came within sight of a 10-month high on news of a smaller-than-expected trade deficit in June and after the Reserve Bank of Australia shifted to a neutral stance from an easing bias at its review on Tuesday. Oil prices edged higher again after Tuesday's retreat, with U.S. crude futures heading towards $72 a barrel after a surprise drawdown in U.S. crude inventories last week.

Japan's Nikkei 225Average fell 1.2 percent as investors locked in profits after it hit a 10-month high the day before, with Toyota Motor losing ground after reporting a third straight quarterly loss. Fast Retailing dropped 3.5 percent after saying same-store sales at its Uniqlo casual clothing chain in Japan fell for the first time in nine months in July.

South Korea's KOSPI retreated 0.4 percent as markets took a breather following their recent gaining streak, with losses by technology issues including LG Display weighing on the index.

Australian shares fell 1 percent as investors took a breather after a recent steep rally and turned cautious ahead of economic data at home and overseas due in coming days.

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Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index finished 1.45 percent down, failing to hold above 21,000 points after breaking through that level for the first time in 11 months on Tuesday. Investors turned wary as valuations of blue-chip stocks inched closer to 21 times their estimated earnings in 2009. Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering lost 8 percent after posting a 27 percent drop in first-half profit, reflecting increasingly difficult trading conditions for the company as airlines cut capacity and expenditure in response to falling demand.

Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 1.6 percent. But Sembcorp Marine jumped 6 percent after JPMorgan raised the firm's target price to S$3.75 from S$3.15 following its better-than-expected earnings results.

China's Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 1.2 percent as profit-taking surfaced. Steel shares were soft, with Baoshan Steel dropping 5 percent and Wuhan Steel sliding 1.7 percent. The official China Securities Journal, citing analysts, said China's steel prices would stage a major correction in August after recording their biggest monthly rise in eight years in July.