Asia markets drop on weak US data, Singapore stocks down 0.76%

Asia stocks opened sharply lower on Wednesday, following a sell-off on Wall Street after sentiment took a hit from mixed US economic data and dashed hopes for an oil production cut.

Singapore's benchmark Straits Times Index opened 0.76% lower at 2,651.69 points, The Business Times reported.

In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei 225 was 1.3 per cent down within the first few minutes of trade while the broader Topix fell 1.35 per cent. The Japanese yen maintained its strength against the dollar, falling to the 111-mark. The pair traded down 0.17 per cent at 111.93 as of 8.02 a.m. HK/SIN time.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi was down 0.29 per cent.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 dropped 1.59 per cent, with most sectors in the red. The heavily weighted financials sector was down 1.36 per cent, energy fell 2.15 per cent, and the materials sector sold off 2.51 per cent.

Oil prices are in focus after overnight comments from Saudi Arabia's oil minister, Ali Ibrahim Naimi, dashed hopes for a possible production cut to tackle the global supply glut.

"Freeze is the beginning of a process, and that means if we can get all the major producers to agree not to add additional balance, then this high inventory we have now will probably decline in due time. It's going to take time," Naimi said.

"It is not like cutting production. That is not going to happen because not many countries are going to deliver even if they say they will cut production - they will not deliver. So there is no sense in wasting our time seeking production cuts," he added.

Last week, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar and Venezuela proposed a freeze that would cap production at January levels, contingent on participation from other oil producers.

Russia's energy minister, Alexander Novak, said on Saturday that the deal should be finalized by March 1, Reuters reported.

But Iran's oil minister Bijan Zangeneh said on Tuesday that the output freeze deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia was "a joke," as reported by Iranian state broadcaster Press TV.

"Some countries that are producing above 10 million barrels per day (bpd) have called on Iran to freeze its production at one million bpd," Zangeneh was quoted saying.

Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG, said in his morning note that oil remained an exciting trading opportunity.

"I see the April contracts in WTI and Brent finishing in the low to mid US$30 a barrel for two reasons," he wrote. "Despite the political storm in OPEC there is a natural demand increase from China leading into the northern summer, and the US is beginning to see rig count declines."

"However, there is record stock piling and the over-production issues will cap the price of oil in a sub-US$40 a barrel range."

During US hours, the international benchmark Brent futures were down $1.44, or 4.18 per cent, at $33.24 a barrel. US crude futures fell $1.52, or 4.55 per cent, to settle at $31.87 a barrel.

Major indexes in the US finished lower with the Dow Jones industrial average closing down 188.88 points, or 1.14 per cent, at 16,431.78. The S&P 500 closed down 24.23 points, or 1.25 per cent, at 1,921.27 while the Nasdaq composite slipped 67.02 points, or 1.47 per cent, to 4,503.58.