The losses came after an index of US consumer confidence on Tuesday showed a slip, while home prices continued to fall in January. - AP photo

HONG KONG: Asian markets slipped on Thursday as more weak economic data out of the United States and Britain stoked concerns about the global economy.

Oil prices retreated after a report showed a bigger rise in US oil stockpiles -- indicating slowing demand -- while they were also weighed by talk in some Western nations of tapping reserves to nullify a recent spike in costs.

Tokyo stocks fell 0.78 percent by the break, Hong Kong shed 1.12 percent, Sydney was 0.10 percent lower, Shanghai lost 0.52 percent and Seoul was 1.07 percent off.

The losses followed a fall on Wall Street after figures from the US Commerce Department showed a slower-than-expected rise in new orders for manufactured durable goods.

That came after an index of US consumer confidence on Tuesday showed a slip, while home prices continued to fall in January.

The results -- added to a cool assessment of the US economy by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke -- capped a run of upbeat jobs data that had lifted hopes the recovery is picking up.

On Wednesday the Dow index fell 0.54 percent, the S&P 500 lost 0.49 percent and the Nasdaq gave up 0.49 percent.

Eyes will now be on US unemployment claims later Thursday, Sydney-based CMC Markets sales trader Miguel Audencial said in a note.

“One would expect that a low figure would boost the market, but on the other hand there is the possibility that the market might see it as a signal that the likelihood of further monetary easing policies may decline and this could be a drag on the market,” he said.

Official data in Britain meanwhile showed that the country's economy shrank a revised 0.3 percent in the final three months of 2011, worse than the 0.2 percent drop previously estimated.

On currency markets the yen strengthened as investors sought safer assets.

The dollar was quoted at 82.63 yen in early Asian trade against 82.86 yen in New York late Wednesday. The euro bought $1.3326 and 110.13 yen compared with $1.3316 and 110.36 yen in New York.

Crude eased after the US Department of Energy said inventories jumped by 7.1 million barrels last week -- three times more than expected.

Adding downward pressure on oil were comments from French Energy Minister Eric Besson suggesting that France is ready to release some of its strategic oil reserves to stave off rising prices.

“It was the United States that requested this, and France greeted the idea favourably. We are now waiting for the opinion of the International Energy Agency,” Besson said on Wednesday after a cabinet meeting.

In morning Asian trade New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in May, shed 15 cents to $105.26 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for May settlement was down 16 cents at $124.00.

Gold was at $1,661.60 an ounce at 0310 GMT, compared with $1,676.26 late Wednesday.

Updated Mar 29, 2012 03:40am

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