TOKYO -- Worries over a slowing economic recovery set Japanese shares back once again Wednesday, with the

Nikkei 225

index setting a fresh 18-month low.

The Nikkei 225 index shed 288.67, or 1.8%, to 15,639.95, while the


index, which includes all shares listed on the

Tokyo Stock Exchange's

first section, lost 25.41, or 1.7%, to 1448.11. The


small-cap index fell 1.41, or 1.9%, to 74.63, while the Nikkei


index lost 22.22, or 1.4%, to 1577.54.

Two major factors, both derived from economic concerns, depressed the market today. First, many foreign hedge funds were piling up short positions in the futures market, in anticipation that the

Bank of Japan's


survey of corporate sentiment, set to be released next Tuesday, would show a nascent recovery amid small and mid-sized firms.

Nikkei 225 December futures closed down 270.00, or 1.7%, at 15,700.00, while Topix December futures fell 22.50, or 1.5%, to 1449.50.

In addition, large-cap technology shares took a beating today over fears that an economic slowdown in the U.S. would put a dent in corporate profits of Japanese electronic firms.



fell 430 yen, or 3.6%, to 11,370 ($105.54),



lost 135, or 5.0%, to 2550, while


( NIPNY) shed 105, or 4.3%, to 2365.

Fuji Photo Film

also tumbled 290, or 7.7%, to 3490 after


( EK) chopped its profit outlook for the third quarter overnight.

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Bucking the trend, however, was mobile giant


. The firm formerly announced its tie-up with

America Online


in the mobile-phone and personal-computer market. Shares closed up 60,000, or 2.0%, at 3.13 million.

The greenback barely budged against the yen and recently fetched 107.73.

Hong Kong's

Hang Seng

index gained 153.28, or 1.0%, to 15,444.13 after investors picked up major blue-chips as a safe-haven to volatile technology shares. Property shares were red hot, including

Sun Hung Kai Properties


, up HK$2.00, or 3.0%, to 69.50 ($8.91), and

Cheung Kong

, up 1.00, or 1.1%, to 92.25.

After declining about 50% over the past two months,

Pacific Century Cyberworks

( PCW) finally gained 0.35, or 4.1%, to 9.00, largely on a technical rebound. Although the firm's mobile-phone joint venture with Australia's


still is under cloudy skies, some traders thought the firm may be clearing that issue up by Friday, quelling investor worries.

Telecom shares were mixed, with

China Mobile

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down 0.75, or 1.5%, to 50.75, while

Hutchison Whampoa

rose 2.50, or 2.5%, to 103.50.

Elsewhere in Asia, Korea's


index gained 1.71, or 2.0%, to 599.31, while Taiwan's


index shed 31.99 to 6717.04.