Asian energy stocks sink, airlines rise on OPEC decision

HONG KONG (AFP) - Shares in energy firms tumbled Friday after oil prices hit four-year lows in reaction to OPEC's decision to ignore calls for an output cut, although the prospect of cheaper fuel sent airlines surging.

Sydney's ASX/S&P 200, the home of commodity giants such as BHP Billiton, Woodside and Santos, was the stand-out loser, although Asian stock markets were mixed as cheaper oil means lower import costs.

At a closely watched meeting Thursday the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said it would "maintain the production level of 30 million barrels per day", where it has been for the past three years.

The 12-nation cartel, which pumps a third of global oil supplies, made the move despite calls from around the world - including from some of its own members - to cut output as prices had fallen by a third since June.

The news was greeted with a huge sell-off on oil markets, with both main contracts diving around five percent to four-year lows. New York's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at one point slumped to US$67.75 a barrel and London's Brent North Sea crude touched US$71.25 - both four-year troughs - before slightly recovering.

In afternoon Asian trade WTI was at US$68.82, down 23 cents from its settle price in electronic trading in New York on Thursday. US floor trading was closed due to Thanksgiving. Brent dropped 21 cents to US$72.37.

"It seems there were still plenty of traders holding out hope that the supply of oil from the world's largest group of producers would be cut," Scott Schuberg, chief executive at Rivkin Securities in Sydney, told Dow Jones Newswires.

In Sydney the biggest casualty was Santos, which plunged 10.85 per cent in late trade, while BHP Billiton lost 3.5 per cent and Woodside was off 6.42 per cent.

Hong Kong-listed shares in CNOOC shed 5.33 per cent and PetroChina sank 3.3 perc ent.

However, Asian airlines - whose main cost is fuel - soared.

Singapore Airlines was among the top gainers at home, up 25 cents at $10.76.

In Hong Kong, Air China jumped 5.7 per cent and Cathay Pacific gained 7.13 per cent, while Tokyo-listed Japan Airlines added 5.7 per cent and rival ANA jumped 6.32 per cent. Qantas gained 7.2 per cent in Sydney and Korean Airlines was up 4.9 per cent in Seoul.

Among regional markets Sydney shed 1.56 per cent, Hong Kong lost 0.11 per cent by lunch and Seoul was 0.16 per cent lower but Shanghai added 0.73 per cent.

Tokyo jumped 1.17 per cent thanks to a weakening yen, while the lower oil prices will provide some support to Japan, which has ramped up imports of the black gold to make up for lost energy caused by the shuttering of the country's nuclear power stations.