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Asian markets hit by Fed stimulus fears

Asian markets suffered a heavy sell-off on Thursday following a tumble on Wall Street as traders grow concerned that the US Federal Reserve could bring an early end to its huge stimulus programme.

Minutes from the Fed's most recent policy board meeting showed some members were in favour of cutting short the $85 billion-a-month bond-buying introduced last year to support the economy and which has helped lift global shares.

Tokyo fell 1.39 percent, or 159.15 points, to 11,309.13 and Sydney slid 2.33 percent, or 118.6 points, to 4,980.1, its worst day so far for 2013 and biggest fall since May. Seoul was off 0.47 percent, or 9.42 points, at 2,015.22.

Shanghai tumbled 2.97 percent, or 71.23 points, to 2,325.95, while Hong Kong slipped 1.72 percent, or 400.74 points, to 22,906.67.

The Fed introduced a third round of its asset-purchase scheme, known as quantitative easing 3 (QE3), in September and said it would not take its foot off the pedal until unemployment had fallen and the economy was strong enough.

However, investor sentiment took a hit after the Fed minutes showed a "number" of board members said an ongoing evaluation of the easing "might well lead the committee to taper or end its purchases before it judged that a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labour market had occurred".

On Wall Street the Dow fell 0.77 percent and the S&P 500 lost 1.24 percent, with both markets having closed at more than five-year highs on Tuesday. The Nasdaq dropped 1.53 percent.

The dollar surged against the euro in New York trade, with the single currency ending at $1.3283, well down from $1.3390 the previous day.

In Tokyo on Thursday the euro bought $1.3265. The euro also sat at 123.96 yen compared with 124.37 yen in New York. The greenback fetched 93.45 yen, against 93.61 yen.

Flagship airline Qantas lifted 2.79 percent after slashing international losses and banking Dreamliner compensation from Boeing to notch a net first-half profit of $114 million -- up 164 percent year on year.

Sony slipped 1.77 percent to close at 1,331 yen in a muted response after it announced its long-awaited PlayStation 4 in New York without actually unveiling the console.

Oil prices were lower owing to a stronger dollar, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, shedding $1.06 to $94.16 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April dropping 98 cents to $114.62.

Gold was at $1,568.41 at 1030 GMT, compared with $1,595.20 late Wednesday.

In other markets:

-- Taipei fell 71.64 points, or 0.89 percent, to 7,957.46.

HTC rose 0.54 percent to Tw$279.0 while Hon Hai Precision fell 1.89 percent to Tw$83.2.

-- Manila closed 0.28 percent higher, adding 18.84 points to 6,667.41.

BDO Unibank gained 0.49 percent to 92 pesos while Philippine Long Distance Telephone rose 0.48 percent to 2,896 pesos.

-- Wellington fell 1.04 percent, or 43.81 points, to 4,170.43.

Fletcher Building fell 3.6 percent to NZ$8.55 and Nuplex lost 4.0 percent to end at NZ$3.33, while Telecom was down 1.3 percent at NZ$2.21.

-- Singapore closed 0.64 percent, or 21.29 points, lower at 3,287.60.

Oil rig maker Keppel Corp dropped 0.43 percent to Sg$11.66. Real estate developer Capitaland fell 2.74 percent to Sg$3.90.

-- Jakarta ended down 2.05 points, or 0.04 percent, at 4,632.40.

State controlled miner Aneka Tambang dropped 3.73 percent to 1,290 rupiah and retailer Hero Supermarket slid 1.82 percent to 5,400 rupiah.

-- Bangkok lost 1.16 percent or 17.90 points to 1,528.74.

Coal producer Banpu added 3.70 percent to 392.00 baht, while Bangkok Life Assurance jumped 3.08 percent to 67.00 baht.

-- Kuala Lumpur gained 0.72 points or 0.04 percent, to close at 1,614.05.

Felda Global Ventures Holdings was up 0.4 percent to 4.49 ringgit while PPB Group rose 0.8 percent to 12.38. Genting Malaysia fell 1.9 percent to end at 3.56 ringgit.

-- Mumbai fell 1.62 percent or 317.39 points to 19,325.36 points.

Indian steel producer Tata Steel fell 4.18 percent to 364.15 rupees while private ICICI Bank slid 3.77 percent to 1,078.45 rupees.