Asia Markets: Asian markets weighed down as oil prices decline

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Global investors turned modest in their risk taking on Wednesday, with stock markets across Asia lacking direction as oil prices declined.

Equities in the region had a good start to the week, but that has stalled as political uncertainty in Europe and the U.S. lingers.

The Nikkei Stock Average NIK, +0.03%   was recently flat in morning trade, giving up early gains that were aided by a slightly weaker Japanese yen. In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 XJO, +0.47%   rose 0.2%, supported by its heavily-weighted financial component.

Following sharp declines overnight, persistent softness in oil prices weighed on indexes in the region. A firmer U.S. dollar pressured the dollar-denominated commodity, making it more expensive for holders of other currencies.

In addition, the American Petroleum Institute said its data for the week showed a 14.2-million-barrel increase in crude supplies.

“The oil price has exerted a drag on the various indexes,” said Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG Group. “We are seeing crude oil inventories from the U.S. jeopardizing the supply cut from OPEC…that has created some kind of concern in the market.”

U.S. crude futures CLH7, -1.19%   slipped further in early Asian trade, with contracts for March delivery down 1.2% at $51.53 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, LCOJ7, -0.84%   the global benchmark, was off 0.9%.

Among individual energy stocks, Japan Petroleum Exploration 1662, -2.25%   was off 1.8%, Oil Search OSH, -0.94%   in Australia was down 0.8% and Cnooc 0883, -1.14%   fell 1.2% in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, -0.09%   was off 0.5% and Korea’s Kospi SEU, -0.56%   traded 1.1% lower.

In Korea, trading in Hanjin Shipping 117930, -17.98%   was halted after the date for its official liquidation was set for Feb. 17. A Seoul court gave creditors two weeks to file any appeals.

An appeal isn’t expected, given that the company’s main creditor, Korea Development Bank, pulled the plug on Hanjin months ago, leading to its bankruptcy in August. The carrier once ranked as the world’s seventh largest.