Asian shares slip on US fiscal cliff fears

Asian markets fell Wednesday, following losses on Wall Street, as traders fret US lawmakers will not agree a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

Forex dealers also ran for cover after the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said "little progress" had been made in cross-party talks on the looming tax hikes and spending cuts due to come in on January 1 that would tip the US into recession.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei index slumped 1.22 percent, or 114.95 points, to close at 9,308.35 as investors locked in profits from recent gains caused by the yen's weakening trend, usually a boost for Japanese shares.

Fujitsu fell 2.62 percent to 297 yen as the leading Nikkei business daily reported the IT giant will pump 100 billion yen ($1.22 billion) into the underfunded pension plan of its British unit Fujitsu Services.

Toshiba shares declined 4.13 percent to 278 yen, Canon was down 3.06 percent at 2,817 yen and Honda Motor off 2.05 percent at 2,672 yen.

The Seoul index ended 0.65 percent, or 12.42 points, lower at 1,912.78 while Sydney shed 0.21 percent, or 9.5 points, to finish at 4,447.3.

Hong Kong was down 0.62 percent, or 135.05 points, at 21,708.98 and Shanghai closed down 0.89 percent, or 17.64 points, at 1,973.52.

Reid's comments raised the spectre of another long battle between Republicans and Democrats, similar to last year's row over raising the country's borrowing cap, which led to the United States losing its AAA credit rating.

"The difficulties with solving the US 'fiscal cliff' are coming to a head again and may present a good selling opportunity for investors," said Kenichi Hirano, market analyst at Tachibana Securities.

The news hit Wall Street shares. The Dow ended 0.69 percent lower, the S&P 500 lost 0.52 percent and the Nasdaq slid 0.30 percent.

The losses came despite data showing US consumer confidence rose in November to its highest level since February 2008, while a separate report said home prices rose in September, a fresh sign of recovery in the crucial housing market.

Also Tuesday the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned that failure to reach a deal would likely see the world's number one economy fall back into recession, which would have a global knock-on effect.

And Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said a temporary fix with no clarity on tax and regulatory policy could have destructive effects.

Currency traders have also been spooked, with euro and dollar falling against the yen after enjoying a recent rally on hopes for a US deal, while the Greek bailout success had also been priced in.

The euro bought $1.2922 and 105.78 yen in Asian trade, compared with $1.2938 and 106.30 yen in New York late Tuesday.

The dollar was at 81.86 yen against 82.16 yen.

The yen has seen selling pressure in recent weeks after the man expected to become prime minister following next month's election vowed to press for more aggressive monetary easing to lift the economy.

Focus has moved to Washington as Greece debt concerns abate after the country was eventually given long-frozen bailout cash on Tuesday.

After marathon talks in Brussels, the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund agreed to unlock 43.7 billion euros ($56 billion) in loans and on the need to grant significant debt relief for decades to come.

Greece must still meet a series of agreed conditions but "the decision will certainly reduce the uncertainty and strengthen confidence in Europe and in Greece," said European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

On oil markets New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for January delivery, was down 18 cents to $87.00 a barrel in the afternoon, and Brent North Sea crude for January was down seven cents at $109.80 in volatile trade.

Gold was at $1,739.60 at 0800 GMT compared with $1,746.42 late Tuesday.

In other markets:

-- Taipei was almost unchanged, edging up 4.73 points to 7,434.93.

Hon Hai Precision added 0.54 percent to Tw$93.3 while TSMC was 0.42 percent lower at Tw$95.9.

-- Manila rose 0.85 percent, or 47.27 points, to 5,633.72.

Dealers welcomed news that the economy grew 7.1 percent year on year in the three months to September, making it the best performer in Southeast Asia.

Top-traded Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. gained 1.41 percent to 2,586 pesos while SM Investments Corp. rose 0.12 percent to 842.50 pesos.

-- Wellington ended flat, edging up 2.55 points to 4,012.16.

Air New Zealand added 2.0 percent to NZ$1.27 and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare climbed 2.4 percent to NZ$2.59.

-- Mumbai was closed for a public holiday.

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