Japan's Nikkei leads losses in Asian markets

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Japanese shares led losses across Asian markets on Wednesday as investors continued to fret over falling oil prices.

In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 closed down 1.7% at 16,795.96, marking its lowest close since 17 December.

Oil-related shares led the fall on the index with top refiner JX Holdings falling 4% and Showa Shell losing 2.8%.

A flight into safer investments saw the US dollar weaken to 117.84 yen, from 117.90 yen in New York trade.

Oil worries

Oil prices continued to slide to near six-year lows. Brent crude dropped below $46 a barrel to $45.80, while US crude fell to $45.34 a barrel.

Analysts said the sell-off in energy shares amid the oil slump was seen by some investors as a sign of weaker global economic growth.

However, the World Bank said lower oil prices would benefit some countries.

In its bi-annual report, the bank predicted global growth of 3% this year and 3.3% next year, below its June forecast of 3.4% and 3.5% respectively.

Australian shares closed lower, with the S&P/ASX 200 down 1% at 5,353.6 points.

Miners were the heaviest hit with shares of giant Rio Tinto finishing down 3.3%.

Meanwhile, shares of oil and gas exploration firm Santos were up more than 2% after its chief executive David Knox said he was considering an asset sale in the wake of falling oil prices.

Chinese shares followed the region's downtrend with the Shanghai Composite closing down 0.4% at 3,222.44.

Bucking the trend were banking shares, with Bank of China up 3.6%.

In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng index fell 0.4% to 24,112.60, ending a five-day winning streak.

South Korean shares closed down with the benchmark Kospi lower 0.2% at 1,913.66 as economic data showed that the country's jobless rate rose in December from a month earlier.

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