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Asian Markets Fall Sharply

Japanese and Hong Kong shares fell heavily Thursday as two of Asia's biggest share markets surrendered to a wave of profit-taking.

Japan's market closed 3.38 percent lower and Hong Kong fell 2.57 percent as investors put the brakes on sharp rallies in both markets after an unsettling, overnight fall on Wall Street.

Japan's Nikkei 225 average fell 550.19 points to 15,717.92, well off a morning high of 16,303.12. Index futures fared little better: The June contract lost 380 points to finish at 15,780.

The selling in Tokyo also infected an already weakened Hong Kong market, where the blue-chip key index took a tumble in late trading to close 280.75 points down at 10,659.32.

Shares also fell sharply in South Korea (3.59 percent) and New Zealand (1.31 percent), and Sydney lost 0.34 percent.

But Taiwan and Philippine exchanges were up more than 2 percent. Singapore's Straits Times index rose 0.28 percent.

Brokers in some Asian markets said sentiment was undermined by Wednesday's 51-point fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which closed at 9,879.41.

On Wednesday, stocks withered for the second straight session on pessimism that the Dow couldn't hold above the 10,000 level.

"Money managers are programmed to sell when you hit a level like that," said Michael Lyons, senior trader at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 51.06 points, or 0.5 percent, to 9,879.41. Tuesday, the 103-year-old yardstick traded above 10,000 for all of 63 seconds before shuffling lower.

The Nasdaq Composite fell 10.28 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,428.99.

"You've got no leadership here and a lack of volume," Lyons said. "When we come to a round number like 7,000, 8,000, 9,000, or 10,000, they rarely make it through on the first attempt."

Energy stocks were Wednesday's top-performing market segment, oil service issues in particular, as crude oil surged to a level not witnessed in more than four months. Major oil producers meet Tuesday in Vienna to hammer out a plan to cut production.

Internet names traded mixed with an upside bias. Financial stocks descended in tandem with lower bond prices, while transportation shares trekked lower on the spurt in crude oil. Energy costs comprise the second-biggest expense for many transport concerns.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.7 percent.

Losers beat winners by 16 to 13 on the New York Stock Exchange.

On the Big Board floor, 751 million shares turned over, 2 percent more than Tuesday.

Advancing issues trailed decliners by 11 to 9 in the Nasdaq Stock Market. Volume totaled 846 million shares.

The Russell 2000 Index of small-capitalization stocks sank 0.2 percent.

In the bond market, the 30-year Treasury fell 13/32, to yield 5.506 percent.