The mood among investors remained subdued after a fourth successive drop on Wall Street overnight, pushing MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan down 0.2 per cent.
Stocks in Australia, heavily dependent on exports of natural resources, lost 0.7 per cent, though Japan's Nikkei bounced 0.5 per cent.
Copper skidded to a 5-1/2 year low on Wednesday as the recent decline in oil prices amplified fears about the state of the global economy.
Benchmark LME copper fell to as low as $5,353.25 overnight, lowest since July 2009. The industrial metal is generally considered a barometer of world demand.
Wednesday's data from the United States further checked risk appetite, with investors already feeling a chill from the World Bank's downgrade of its 2015 and 2016 economic forecasts.
US retail sales recorded their largest decline in 11 months in December as demand fell almost across the board, tempering expectations for a sharp acceleration in consumer spending in the fourth quarter.
A rebound in beaten-down crude oil prices did little to lift the mood.
Oil prices rebounded from near six-year lows overnight as traders turned away from bearish bets stoked by a global supply glut to cover expiring options.
US crude was up 1 per cent at $48.99 a barrel after surging nearly six per cent overnight.
But the technical nature of the rebound in oil prices kept markets cautious about the outlook.
"The question is whether the market sees the current decline as overdone and is now establishing a bottom or is resetting and will go again," Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, said in note to clients.
"I see the latter as the most likely scenario - the oil rout is far from over and it looks to me like a dead cat bounce."
In currencies the dollar nursed losses after the weaker-than-expected US retail sales data pulled US Treasury yields sharply lower.
The dollar traded little changed at 117.55 yen after going as low as 116.06 overnight, its lowest in a month.
The disappointing US data led the market to further push out the day when the Federal Reserve is likely to deliver its first interest rate increase, which many analysts had suspected could come in June.
The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield was at 1.8604 per cent after touching a 20-month trough of 1.7840 per cent.
The euro fetched $1.1780, limping away from a nine-year low of $1.1728.
Copyright: Thomson Reuters 2015