CANBERA (dpa-AFX) - Asian shares closed mostly lower on Wednesday as falling oil prices and fresh geopolitical worries in light of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Brussels kept risk appetite in check ahead of the long Easter break beginning on Friday. Losses were capped somewhat following Wall Street's seemingly muted reaction to terror attacks in the Belgian capital.
While U.S. stocks ended mixed overnight despite heavy selling in airline and travel-related shares, the pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 index slipped 0.15 percent to end off its day's lows on Tuesday.
China's Shanghai Composite index closed up 10.60 points or 0.35 percent at 3,009.96 despite Fitch Ratings warning on banks' profitability in 2016. Fitch expects Chinese bank profits to decline this year unless authorities relax the minimum NPL provisioning requirement of 150 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed the day 0.25 percent lower at 20,615.23.
Japanese shares fell in choppy trade as investors remained wary of movements in yen, oil and China's yuan, which eased against the dollar today despite a firmer midpoint setting by the People's Bank of China. The benchmark Nikkei average dropped 47.57 points or 0.28 percent to 17,000.98 and the broader Topix index closed 0.42 percent lower at 1,364.20.
Hitachi Construction Machinery fell 2.3 percent and energy explorer Inpex slid 1.3 percent while heavyweight Fast Retailing advanced 3.1 percent. Sharp Corp rose 1.6 percent on a Nikkei report that Taiwan's Foxconn is lowering an offer for the loss-making Japanese electronics maker. Nintendo lost 1 percent after denying reports that it plans to halt production of its latest console, the Wii U.
Australian shares fell in quiet trade, as a dip in commodity prices and a note from Goldman Sachs regarding 'funding dilemmas' weighed on resource and banking stocks. The benchmark S and P/ASX200 index dropped 24.30 points or 0.47 percent to 5,142.30, while the broader All Ordinaries index shed 26.50 points or 0.51 percent to finish at 5,204.30.
While NAB fell as much as 2 percent, the other three banks ended down less than half a percent each. Mining giant BHP Billiton lost 1.7 percent and smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group tumbled 4.4 percent. Sigma Pharmaceuticals advanced 3.5 percent after publishing its full-year results.
Energy giant Woodside Petroleum shed 0.9 percent after announcing it has shelved its key multi-billion dollar Browse liquefied natural gas (LNG) project due to the challenging market environment. Santos dropped 0.8 percent and Origin Energy retreated 3.5 percent.
Seoul shares edged lower as investors braced for earnings and North Korea threatened a 'miserable end' for South Korea's president and her American allies in its latest colorfully worded attack. The benchmark Kospi average slipped 1.69 points or 0.08 percent to 1,995.12.
New Zealand shares hit a fresh record high, given the relatively muted reaction to the terror attacks in the U.S. and European markets overnight. The benchmark S and P/NZX-50 index rose 4.62 points or 0.07 percent to 6,668.87. Fletcher Building, Ebos Group and Spark New Zealand rose 1-2 percent.
Units of Fonterra Shareholders Fund dropped 0.8 percent after Fonterra Cooperative Group announced it would bring forward dividend payments to help struggling farmers. SkyCity Entertainment Group and Sky Network Television fell over 3 percent each.
Elsewhere, the benchmark indexes in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan were down between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent.
Singapore's consumer price inflation fell an annual 0.8 percent in February, faster than the 0.6 percent decline in the previous month, official figures showed. Economists had expected a 0.7 percent drop for the month.