Asian indices were broadly lower on Thursday, as a rout in energy stocks and a slew of disappointing corporate earnings weigh on regional markets.
Oil remained weak in Asian trading, following data that showed U.S. crude oil stocks rose by almost 9 million barrels last week to reach nearly 407 million, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1982. After tumbling to the lowest level in nearly six years in the previous session, Brent was trading at $48.65 a barrel at 0255 GMT while U.S. crude was at $44.54, versus the six-year low of $44.08 hit on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Federal Open Market Committee stuck to its vow to be "patient" on hiking interest rates and raised its view of the economy and labor market on Wednesday, even as the central bank anticipates a further decline in inflation.
Overnight, U.S. stocks declined as the energy sector expanded losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 1.1 percent while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed 0.9 percent. The S&P 500 (^GSPC) fell 1.4 percent, a day after it took its biggest hit in more than three weeks.
Mainland indices down
China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index shed 1.3 percent to a more than two-month low, with financials among the hardest-hit, following reports from state media Xinhua that the mainland's stock regulator will inspect the stock margin trading business of 46 companies .
Brokerages suffered steep losses, with Haitong Securities (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 837-SZ), Huatai Security and Founder Securities (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1901-SZ) closing down over 3 percent each, while Citic Securities (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 30-SZ) slumped 2.3 percent.
Apart from insurers like Ping An Insurance (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1318-SZ) and China Life Insurance (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1628-SZ) which retreated more than 2 percent each, China Minsheng Bank was among the top losers for the day with a 3 percent slump.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 1.1 percent to a one-week low. Sands China (Hong Kong Stock Exchange: 1928-HK) widened losses in the last hour of trading to end down 1.1 percent after fourth quarter net revenue fell 16.2 percent to $2.12 billion.
Nikkei skids 1.1%
Nintendo (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 7974.T-JP) was one of the biggest losers for the day, down over 8 percent, after issuing a profit warning on Wednesday.
Canon also made losses of 5.1 percent. The camera maker reported a slight rise in fourth-quarter profit thanks to a weaker yen and solid office equipment sales, but digital camera sales remain sluggish. Construction equipment makers Hitachi Construction (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6305.T-JP) and Komatsu (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6301.T-JP) also declined 10.9 and 8.6 percent each, on disappointing corporate reports.
Broker giant Nomura (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 8604.T-JP), NTT DoCoMo (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 9437.T-JP) and Toshiba (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6502.T-JP) made losses between 1.2 and 2.2 percent, while Advantest (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6857.T-JP) erased losses to bounce up 1.3 percent, ahead of their corporate earnings reports.
Meanwhile, shares of Skymark Airlines (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 9204.T-JP) were de-listed after the budget carrier filed for bankruptcy protection late on Wednesday, putting the blame on Airbus and fierce competition at home.
In other news, Japan's retail sales for December rose a lesser-than-expected 0.2 percent from a year earlier.
Kospi falls 0.5%
South Korean shares tracked losses in their regional counterparts to finish lower on Thursday. Samsung Electronics (Korea Stock Exchange: 593-KR), the heaviest weighted stock on the Kospi (Korea Stock Exchange: .KS11) index, shed 1.3 percent amid choppy trade after announcing a 36 percent on-year fall in fourth quarter profit , confirming its first annual earnings decline in three years.
The country's largest web portal operator Naver (Korea Stock Exchange: 3542-KR) also slid 5.3 percent after its profits for the October-December period came in below forecasts.
LG electronics (Korea Stock Exchange: 6657-KR), due to hand in earnings results later in the day, sagged nearly 2 percent.
ASX gains 0.3%
Australia's key S&P ASX 200 index erased losses to edge up to a four-and-a-half-month high, posting a six-session winning streak, as a rebound in the banking sector offset losses in the beaten-down energy space.
As Westpac (ASX:WBC-AU) trimmed losses to close down 0.1 percent, National Australia Bank , Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX:CBA-AU) and ANZ Banking rebounded to make gains between 0.9 and 1.2 percent, respectively.
Oil and gas producers Santos (ASX:STO-AU) and Liquefied Natural Gas (ASX:LNG-AU) plunged more than 2 percent each, while Oil Search (ASX:OSH-AU) finished down 1.2 percent, as oil prices plumbed fresh six-year lows overnight.
Fortescue Metals (ASX:FMG-AU) climbed nearly 10 percent after announcing that cost cutting measures and a weak Australian dollar have helped it to combat ongoing turmoil in the price of iron ore.
New Zealand's NZX 50 (New Zealand Stock Exchange: .NZ50C) index edged down 0.6 percent, retreating from record highs clinched earlier in the session, while the kiwi dollar (Exchange:USDNZD=) erased gains to trade at $0.7299, near three-and-a-half-year lows. Earlier in the session, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand held its benchmark rate steady, but turned dovish as it said its next move could be either up or down after an extended period on hold.
PSE Composite flat
Philippines' benchmark index was slipped 0.5 percent in the afternoon session, backing further away from record highs after leaping 0.8 percent at the open following an upside surprise in the country's fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP).
The Philippine economy grew an annual 6.9 percent in the October-December period, faster than market expectations of 6.0 percent, government data showed on Thursday. This brings full-year 2014 growth to 6.1 percent.