HONG KONG: Asian markets fell Friday as traders grew nervous over Greece's chances of avoiding a default after eurozone chiefs withheld a new bailout and ordered Athens to accept more swingeing cuts.
The decision to put off ratification of the rescue cash gives Greece just under a week to meet three new criteria and came despite the country's politicians finally agreeing on other austerity measures.
Sydney closed down 0.88 percent, or 37.6 points, at 4,245.3, Tokyo ended 0.61 percent, or 55.07 points, off at 8,947.17 and Seoul finished 1.04 percent lower, or 20.91 points at 1,993.71.
In the afternoon Hong Kong shed 1.24 percent and Shanghai was down 0.25 percent.
Despite Greek politicians agreeing after lengthy talks on a tough set of cuts demanded by international lenders, Brussels told Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos that more needed to be done to qualify for the 130-billion-euro ($171 billion) bailout.
Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker told a news conference: “Despite the important progress achieved over the last days we did not have yet all necessary elements on the table to take decisions today.”The finance chiefs urged the Greek parliament to approve the austerity measures agreed by the political parties when it convenes on Sunday.
They also called for additional structural spending cuts of 325 million euros for 2012 and a written pledge from coalition leaders that they will implement austerity measures.
Failure to agree the measures and qualify for the cash could see Athens default on its debt repayments, which many fear could see it leave the eurozone and lead to another global financial catastrophe.
Greece is, however, close to finalising a debt writedown with its private lenders, hoping to slash 100 billion euros from its 350-billion-euro debt mountain. EU economic affairs head Olli Rehn said the writedown was near.
“We've had a nice run up in risk assets this year, but we've got a lot of event risk this weekend, so investors aren't prepared to commit any more money to equities at this point,” said Sydney-based IG Markets institutional dealer Chris Weston.
“The fact that Greece has agreed on fresh austerity measures is positive, but European officials appear sceptical, and we need to see Greek lawmakers vote through the austerity measures this weekend,” he said.
Markets reacted little after China said its January trade activity fell to its lowest level since 2009 during the global financial crisis, amid turmoil in the country's key export markets and slowing domestic demand.
Analysts said the data -- exports fell 0.5 percent year-on-year to $149.94 billion while imports plunged 15.3 percent to $122.66 billion -- was distorted by the earlier-than-usual Lunar New Year holiday last month.
“The trade data is not affecting the market much because investors know it was distorted by the Lunar New Year holiday,” Minsheng Securities analyst Zhang Lei told Dow Jones Newswires.
On forex markets the euro stood at $1.3255 and 102.94 yen, from $1.3286 and 103.20 yen.
The dollar bought 77.64 yen, down from 77.68 yen.
Adding to the downbeat sentiment in Sydney was news that mining giant Rio Tinto's annual net profit tumbled 59 percent, which came a day after rival BHP Billiton also saw underwhelming earnings for the year.
New York's main oil contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light sweet crude for delivery in March, shed 36 cents to $99.48 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for March was down 44 cents to $118.15 in the afternoon.
Gold was at $1,731.25 an ounce at 0630 GMT, against $1,732.80 late Thursday in New York.
In other markets:
-- Taipei fell 0.61 percent, or 48.51 points, to 7,862.27.
Hon Hai fell 1.45 percent to Tw$102.0 while TSMC was 1.41 percent lower at Tw$76.9.
-- Wellington gained 0.64 percent, or 21.40 points, to 3,348.13.
Fletcher Building rose 2.3 percent to NZ$6.73, Contact Energy was up 2.7 percent at NZ$4.94 and Telecom was 0.46 percent off at NZ$2.15.