STOCKS in Tokyo ended at a 54-week low yesterday on investors' despair about the poor economic outlook and the Government's reluctance to take concrete steps to spur the economy. But index-linked buying and short-covering helped to spur an afternoon rebound and to cut the losses. The Nikkei 225 stock average plunged 647.66 points, 3.87 per cent, to 16,078.71. The broader first section Topix index plummeted even more, down 5.2 per cent - 74.06 points - to 1,350.48. The Nikkei's close was the lowest since November 17 last year when it ended at 15,993.48. An estimated 340 million shares were traded. Bearish sentiment was underlined by a string of poor corporate earnings, particularly for banks, brokers said. ''Lower share prices cut unrealised profits of banks and increase selling pressure of bank shares as well. It is a vicious circle,'' one broker said. The Nikkei has shed 5,069 points, 24 per cent, since its most recent closing high, which was 21,148.11 posted on September 13. Sentiment was also dented by remarks by Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii and Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, which were interpreted by brokers as reflecting the Government's indifference to the stock market. Asked if the Government planned to work out any countermeasures to help support stock prices, Mr Hosokawa said: ''No. As I told you, supply and demand are up to the market, so we will continue to monitor it.'' SYDNEY PLUNGING Asian stock markets unsettled Australian shares, which were already weakened by fears of falling oil prices, brokers said. In sympathy with the falls on the Nikkei and Hang Seng, Australia's All Ordinaries index ended at 2,010.3 points, 32.8 points below Friday's finish. The All Industrials index fell 47.4 points to 3,100 and the All Resources index shed 21.8 points to 1,179.5. Turnover was 179.2 million shares worth A$364.8 million. ''Looking at the Nikkei, there's a little uncertainty and people are waiting to see what Wall Street will do tonight,'' said broker Peter Stock at Austock Brokers. BANGKOK THAI stocks slid across the board in thin trade, but closed off the day's lows as local investors were worried by losses in Tokyo and Hong Kong. The SET index closed down 14.06 points, 1.07 per cent, at 1,295.51 on thin turnover of 7.57 billion baht. It had dropped to a low of 1,289.35 in the afternoon. ''In the morning, Thai investors were in panic. They didn't know why the Nikkei had such a big loss,'' said a broker at Ekachart Finance and Securities. ''But I think this should be just a short-term psychological impact on the Thai market,'' said an analyst at Dhana Siam Finance and Securities. SEOUL PERSISTENT consolidation dragged the stock market lower for the fourth consecutive session in a day of roller-coaster trading, brokers said. They expected the consolidation to continue this week. ''The 800 level is a strong supporting line,'' Kim Ki-hong of Coryo Securities said. ''I expect a tug-of-war among blue-chip manufacturings, asset-play counters and financials to find the next performing stock.'' The composite stock index lost 0.97 points to 804.54 with turnover at 618.8 billion won from 468.9 billion on Saturday. ''The market needs a further breather - until the end of this week at least,'' said S.C. Woo of Tongyang Securities. ''I expect a short-lived technical rebound.'' MANILA THE Philippine stock market fell due to profit-taking and the seasonal trend when investors pulled their money out to pay for greater spending during the Christmas holidays, traders said. But analysts widely dismissed the suggestion that the major slump in the Tokyo stock market was a key factor in the decline. The composite price index at the Manila stock exchange tumbled 42.95 points, 1.8 per cent, to close at 2,332.29, while the indicator at the rival Makati exchange slipped 19.88 points, 0.8 per cent, to settle at 2,405.41. A source at Papa Securities said the downturn in Tokyo might have slightly affected sentiment on Manila's exchanges but added that ''overall, I guess people are just taking their profits''. ''This is a correction we have been long waiting for,'' he added. Sapphire Securities senior consultant Evan King said there was ''no analogy'' between the developments in Tokyo and Manila. ''What is happening in Japan is a sell-off due to the banking problems. Here it is an orderly decline,'' said Mr King, adding that there was still a lot of foreign interest in the market. KUALA LUMPUR SHARE prices recovered from their lows at the close as bargain hunters emerged on the back of an afternoon rebound in Tokyo stocks, brokers said. After a firmer opening, shares retreated on nervous selling following the plunge in Tokyo. ''The market stabilised in the afternoon although trading was cautious,'' a broker said, adding that investors became nervous when the Nikkei dipped below the 16,000-point support level. The 85-share Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange composite index closed down 4.24 points at 972.1. A dealer at SJ Securities said the local market would continue to take its cue from overseas markets in the absence of domestic fresh leads, adding that a further plunge in Tokyo stocks would unsettle investors. SINGAPORE THE blue-chip Straits Times Industrial index fell 9.06 points to close at 2,098.92 points, due to worries about the Tokyo drop. The broader-based SES All-Singapore index finished 1.31 points lower at 547.32 points. Dealers attributed the dip to the massive drop on the Tokyo exchange, although they felt the market was quite stable. ''All things considered, the fall is mild compared to what happened in Tokyo,'' one dealer said. Turnover fell to S$477.07 million from Friday's $578 million. WELLINGTON NEW Zealand shares drifted to a lower close on very light turnover, but the full market reaction to Sunday's Cabinet reshuffle might be affected by the swings on foreign markets last night and today. ''Tomorrow [Tuesday] will be an interesting day for our market,'' Lance Jenkins at Jordan Sandman Were said. The NZSE-40 capital index ended down 15.66 points at 2,042.55 on thin volume of NZ$19 million. Mr Jenkins expected US investors to be the only foreign participants to lose a little confidence after the demise of Ruth Richardson, who was replaced by Bill Birch as finance minister in the new-look Cabinet. ''The key is the economic policies, and they should just continue on,'' he said. But he expected more softness today. JAKARTA PRICES closed mixed in moderate late trading, with Tokyo's plunge having little impact, brokers said. ''There hasn't been much impact here, although fund managers will probably concentrate on Tokyo and Hong Kong for the moment,'' one local dealer said. One broker said Jakarta might benefit from the fall in Tokyo if fund managers switched some of their investments to Indonesia. ''Indonesia's economic fundamentals look good for . . . 1994,'' he said. The Chinese share prices are provided by Telerate. All other prices are provided by Reuter.