Asian Stocks Tumble as Oil Marches Higher

Asian stocks fell on Wednesday, with declines on Wall Street and continued rises in crude oil prices dampening investor sentiment and weighing on issues that are sensitive to energy prices.

Japan's Nikkei average snapped a three-day winning streak on Wednesday, pushed down by concerns that rising oil prices will hurt the global economic recovery.

The benchmark Nikkei closed down 2.4 percent and the broader Topix shed2.16 percent.

But Yahoo Japan surged as much 6 percent before closing up 3.7 percent after sources said Yahoo is in advanced talks to wind down its joint venture in Japan with Softbank. Softbank said lost 3.6 percent. In a statement, Softbank said it is not in talks with Yahoo Japan and had no intention to buy its stake in the Japanese business.

Inpex, Japan's largest oil and gas developer reversed early gains to close 0.52 percent lower.

Sharp fell 4.8 percent after Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities cut its rating to "equal-weight" from "overweight".

The brokerage said the company is likely to post a big decline in earnings after the January-March quarter due to worse-than-expected cost cuts.

Morgan Stanley also cut its target price to 850 yen from 1,000 yen.

Seoul shares fell as transport firms and construction companies retreated.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended down 0.57 percent.

Shares in Korean Air Line, South Korea's top air carrier, fell 0.8 percent and Asiana Airlines extended losses, ending down 4.7 percent.

Australian shares fell for the third consecutive day to their lowest close in two weeks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index shed 0.48 percent.

Shares in regional pay-TV firm Austar gained as much as 28.8 percent, but pared back gains to close up 10.62 percent after it said rival pay-TV operator Foxtel has talked to Austar's main shareholder, Liberty Global, about a potential takeover offer, pointing to another possible deal in Australia's consolidating media sector.

Shares in Centro Properties dived 40 percent a day after the troubled mall owner confirmed it had sold nearly 600 U.S. shopping malls to Blackstone for $9.4 billion, one of the biggest property deals since the credit crisis. The stock had fallen 13 percent on Tuesday.

Africa-focused coal miner Riversdale, under offer from Rio Tinto , fell 3.4 percent to A$14.97 after India's Tata Steel, the world's No. 7 steelmaker, raised its stake in the miner.

Shares in Westfield Group, one of the world's largest shopping mall operators, eased 0.7 percent to A$9.57 after it said it has appointed Peter Lowy and Steven Lowy as joint chief executive officers as part of changes to its board.

Gold stocks such as Newcrest received a boost as political turmoil in the Arab world sent gold to an all-time high above $1,432 an ounce. Newcrest climbed 1.91 percent.

New Zealand stocks clawed back earlier losses to close down 0.1 percent. The New Zealand dollar take a sharp hit against the U.S. dollar and Australian dollar after Prime Minister said he expects the Reserve Bank of New Zealand to cut rates next week in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

Standard Chartered declined 0.4 percent in Hong Kong. The Asia-focused bank posted a 52 percent rise in second-half net profitamid strong growth in emerging markets, meeting expectations. 2010 net profit rose 29 percent on increased wholesale income and lower impairment charges. However, the bank also saw costs rising.

The broader Hang Seng Index ended down 1.5 percent.

The Shanghai Composite closed 0.2 lower after five straight
sessions of gains, with a selloff in infrastructure-related stocks such as cement producers and equipment makers.

Singapore shares fell on Wednesday as investors locked in gains from the previous trading session, rattled by the surge in oil prices. The Straits Times Index (STI) closed down 1.3 percent.

Palm oil firm Golden Agri-Resources fell as much as 4.3 percent after seeing huge gains on Tuesday driven by its strong fourth-quarter earnings and palm oil outlook.

Oil and gas services firm Ezra Holdings rose as much as 3.7 percent, outperforming the broader market, after it said it had won a $41 million contract from Norway's Statoil.

Other Southeast Asian markets were all trading lower. Malaysia's KLCI closed down 0.2 percent. The Jakarta Composite ended 0.8 percent lower. The Philippine and Thai markets also declined.

The FTSE CNBC 100 Index fell 1.4 percent.