HONG KONG, Jan 31, 2011 (AFP) - Oil prices crept hovered just below the $100 a barrel mark on Monday as traders grew increasingly worried about unrest in Egypt, while stock markets in Asia mostly fell.
Share prices partly lost ground due to last week's sharp falls on Wall Street -- the result both of instability in Egypt and poor corporate results.
However, resource stocks gained on higher prices for oil and gold.
Tokyo's Nikkei index ended down 1.18 percent, or 122.42 points, at 10,237.92 and Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 0.44 percent, or 21.0 points, to 4,753.9, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.72 percent, or 169.68 points, to 23,447.34.
But the Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.38 percent, or 37.94 points, to 2,790.69, with gains among oil companies and gold miners.
World oil prices rose, with the most obvious threat from Egypt's turmoil being the risk that supplies through the vital Suez Canal could be disrupted.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for March delivery, was up 74 cents at $90.09 per barrel in late afternoon trade. Brent North Sea crude for March fell 44 cents to $98.98.
The gap between Brent and New York has reached unprecedented levels in recent days owing to the high level of crude stockpiles at the Cushing storage depot in Oklahoma.
The price rises were likely to fuel expectations that oil could top $100 a barrel, threatening the global economic recovery.
Sharon Zollner, senior economist at ANZ Bank in Wellington, told Dow Jones Newswires that besides the risk of Suez disruption, "The greater fear is that the turmoil could spread to other Middle East countries, including even Saudi Arabia. If that happens, then all bets on oil prices are off."
Tokyo saw heavy losses among companies directly exposed to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak is under intense pressure from continued mass unrest, amid calls by Western governments for a peaceful transition.
Among Japanese stocks losing ground were Nissan Motor, which suspended production at its plant near Cairo at least for this week, and Toshiba, which is preparing to build a TV manufacturing plant in Egypt.
In other mixed news for Japan, data showed industrial production posted its strongest rise in 11 months in December, while airline ANA swung back to the black with a group net profit of $457 million in the nine months to December.
On the down side, Honda Motor said its net profit for the three months ended December had fallen nearly 40 percent from a year earlier, but it expected full-year net profit to be 97.5 percent higher.
Asian markets were not helped by Wall Street's poor performance -- the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.41 percent over last week after eight straight weeks of gains. Sentiment was dented by disappointing earnings reports from Amazon, Microsoft and Ford Motor Co.
However some traders were unworried about any knock-on from the situation in Egypt.
Hong Kong pared back some of its losses late in the day.
In Shanghai, Simon Wang, an analyst from Guoyuan Securities, was mostly optimistic, saying worries about a likely Chinese rate hike had diminished ahead of holidays at the end of the week.
"The market will likely rise slightly ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday as it seems that the chance for another hike in interest rate is slim for now," Wang told Dow Jones Newswires.
Risk averse investors kept away from the euro in Asia.
The European single currency stayed at $1.3610 in Tokyo afternoon trade after slumping to a low of $1.3569 in early trade, compared with $1.3609 in New York late Friday, when it plunged due to escalating tension in Egypt.
The single European currency dropped to 111.58 yen from 111.72 yen.
The dollar fetched 82.05 yen, flat from 82.09 yen in New York Friday.
Gold closed at $1,333.30-$1,334.30 an ounce in Hong Kong, up from Friday's close of $1,314.50-$1,315.50, amid a general rise in commodity prices on the back of the Egyptian unrest.
In other markets:
-- Seoul fell 1.81 percent, or 38.14 points, to 2,069.73, led by construction stocks concerns over Egypt.
-- Wellington fell 0.42 percent, or 13.90 points, to 3,338.74.
Fletcher Building fell 2.0 percent to NZ$7.73 after Australia's Crane Group accepted its raised takeover offer of almost Aus$800 million ($792 million). Telecom shed 1.7 percent to NZ$2.28 and Air New Zealand declined 0.7 percent to NZ$1.40.
-- Manila fell 2.24 percent, or 88.87 points, to 3,881.47 amid heightened risk aversion due to Egypt.
Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. fell 0.7 percent to 2,460 pesos; Aboitiz Power dropped 5.3 percent to 27.75 pesos and Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co., fell 2.6 percent to 64.90 pesos.
-- Singapore's Straits Times Index closed down 49.97 points, or 1.55 percent, to 3,179.72.
Property developer CapitaLand slipped 1.1 percent to Sg$3.60 and Singapore Telecom fell 1.9 percent to Sg$3.10.
-- Kuala Lumpur closed down 1.95 points, or 0.13 percent, to 1,519.94 as blue-chips led declines ahead of a public holiday Tuesday.
Among fallers, food giant Nestle lost 2.0 percent to 44.70 ringgit, conglomerate Genting eased 1.7 percent to 10.66 ringgit, and energy concern Tenaga lost 1.3 percent to 6.15 ringgit.
-- Jakarta lost 78.44 points or 2.25 percent to 3,409.16.
-- Taipei was closed for a public holiday.