Asia Down, Libya Outweighs US Jobs Data

Asian stocks fell on Monday, as fears of more turmoil in the Middle Eastand higher oil prices overshadowed solid U.S. payroll data.

Japan's stocks tumbled, falling below a key support level and erasing last week's gains.

The benchmark Nikkei fell 1.8 percent. At one point, the Nikkei hit an intraday low. The broader Topix index shed 1.5 percent to 941.63.

The resignation of Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara over political donations added to troubles facing unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan but participants said it had no immediate impact on the market.

The benchmark Nikkei fell 1.8 percent, dropping below immediate support of 10,537.09, the kijun line on its daily Ichimoku chart. At one point, the Nikkei hit an intraday low of 10,472.51.

The broader Topix shed 1.5 percent to 941.63.

The chairman of Chinese drinks maker Hangzhou Wahaha said at the weekend he was considering buying a Japanese dairy firm, pushing Megmilk Snow up 2.3 percent and Morinaga Milk up 1.8 percent to 348 yen.

Japan's largest oil and gas developer Inpex extended gains, adding 1.6 percent to 588,000 yen. It has surged some 24 percent so far in 2011 amid turmoil in the Middle East, outperforming the Nikkei's 2.7 percent gain in the same period.

Oki Electric Industry soared 14 percent to 83 yen after the telecoms equipment maker, which expects a 28 billion yen ($340 million) net loss for the business year ending on March 31, said 1,018 employees had agreed to take early retirement.

On the other hand, shares in the world's largest automaker, Toyota Motor declined 2.4 percent in active trade after Standard & Poor's agency on Friday downgraded it to "AA-" from "AA" on weak profitability.

"Toyota's profitability has been recovering, but it is still weak and is improving at a slower pace than the profitability of its Japanese peers," S&P said in a statement.

Seoul shares fell, led by Samsung Electronics as its first quarter earnings outlook dimmed, while rising oil prices sent transport companies such as Korean Air Line sharply lower.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended down 1.22 percent.

Australian stocks fell 1.4 percent to close at a 5-week low on Monday, with index heavyweights such as BHP Billiton, retailers and top banks posting substantial losses as instability in oil-producing nations turned investors risk-averse.

Falls in share values well beyond 1 percent were widespread, with Commonwealth Bank down 1.8 percent at a 6-week low, BHP Billiton down 2 percent and Rio Tinto down 1.6 percent.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index fell 66.4 points to 4,797.9, its lowest close in 5 weeks and tentatively breaching chart support at 4,800.

Coles supermarkets owner Wesfarmers lost 2 percent while rival Woolworths ended down 1.4 percent as the oil-supply threat looms over the outlook for retail spending.

Airlines fell, with Virgin Blue down 4.1 percent at A$0.35 and Qantas Airways slipping 1.7 percent to A$2.28. fell 4.6 percent to A$5 after private equity owned Nine Entertainment sold its 49.1 percent stake in the firm for $565 million to cut debt. The stake was sold through UBS to institutional investors at A$4.92 a share.

China’s stocks rose to the highest in more than three months, led by consumer and energy companies, after the government said domestic consumption will drive economic growth.

The Shanghai Composite Index , gained 1.8 percent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed lower by 0.4 percent. The stock exchange extended trading hours starting todayfrom 4 hours to 4-half hours, by shortening its lunch break.

Singapore shares recovered earlier losses to end slightly higher by the midday on Monday, lifted by gains in oil-rig builders Sembcorp Marine and Keppel Corp on a positive outlook for

By the close, the Straits Times Index (STI) was up just 0.17 percent at 3,066.

Palm oil firms such as Golden Agri-Resources were lower on concerns that rising inflation and food prices could sap on consumer demand. The stock fell 1.4 percent.

Shares of Singapore-listed Chinese wastewater treatment firm Sinomem Technology jumped as much as 27 percent to a 17-month high after receiving a $277 million takeover bid, triggering a rally in shares of its rivals.

The FTSE CNBC 100 Index fell 0.5 percent.