Weaknesses in the value of the Korean currency, the won, helped lift the prospects for exporters, helping to ease slightly the gloom dragging financial stocks down.

In Hong Kong Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 1.48 per cent in afternoon trade, while Shanghai's benchmark composite index was off 1.02 per cent.

Shares in Sydney, Australia, closed down by almost one per cent.

Investors continue to be wary over the health of the global financial system after insurer AIG announced on Monday that it had lost $61.7bn in the final quarter of 2008, the largest-ever quarterly loss by a US company.

The news came on the same day that British-based banking giant HSBC, seen as one of the more resilient financial institutions, announced that a new rights issue would seek billions of dollars in fresh capital from its shareholders.

The falls in Asia-Pacific markets came after stocks in the United States slid to 12-year lows with the Dow Jones Industrial index ending Monday down 300.11 points, or 4.25 per cent, at 6,762.82 points.

The US credit crisis and recession have slashed more than half the Dow's value since it hit a record high of over 14,000 in October 2007.