TOKYO stocks ended sharply lower yesterday, with the Nikkei average closing below 17,000. Investors feared that the Government might not unveil a package of economic stimulus measures as early as they had hoped because officials appeared to lack a consensus, brokers said. The Nikkei 225 average plunged 618.97 points, 3.55 per cent, to end at 16,840.38. The broader first section TOPIX index lost 46.25 points, 3.17 per cent, to end at 1,413.86. Although investors were cautious about taking fresh positions, profit-taking and arbitrage-linked selling kept hitting prices, brokers said. An estimated 220 million shares were traded. The Nikkei last closed below 17,000 on November 30. The Nikkei 300 index fell 0.15 points to 270.77 on Friday. ''[Before they buy] market participants want to see when the Government will unveil a package of economic stimulus plans and how large and concrete it will be,'' said Masayoshi Yano, general manager at Nikko Securities. There was widespread speculation last week that the Government might be on the verge of unveiling a fresh economic stimulus package, possibly today. But Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa said yesterday that the Government was not considering such a package. Investors still hoped the Government would announce a package of measures sooner or later, and bears were cautious about selling heavily, limiting the downside, brokers said. Many negative signs that reflect the poor health of Japan's economy emerged yesterday, dampening sentiment. Property developer Kabuto Decom's president was arrested on suspicion of issuing commercial bills worth 6.4 billion yen after its main bank cut off new loans in October. The Nikkei's drop at the close was the second-largest this year. Its record fall this year was on November 29, when it closed down 647.66 points. KUALA LUMPUR FRENZIED speculative buying drove share prices higher, with the key Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange composite index closing at an all-time high of 1,041.11 points, up 17.19 from Friday, brokers said. ''Rumours of takeovers and timber concessions are driving up selected stocks,'' said an institutional dealer. ''But I don't think the heavy speculative buying will last very long. I expect some correction later in the week.'' The feverish conditions pushed turnover to 901.8 million shares, the highest since October 28 when volume reached 909.2 million. Turnover was 628.5 million shares on Friday. SEOUL PERSISTENT healthy interest in blue-chip manufacturing stocks pushed the market up for the third consecutive session, despite an institutional sell-off of financials and shares with low price-to-book ratios which cancelled an early 17-point advance,brokers said. They expect immediate profit-taking today. ''Further rises on the index are unlikely. The market will take a rest with the index holding the psychological 800 level in December,'' said S.C. Woo of Tongyang Securities. The composite stock index added 4.9 points to end at 826.49. ''Investors had confidence in manufacturings on the back of optimistic prospects for a quick economic recovery,'' said Park Key-pyong of Hanyang Securities. Anticipation of a settlement of the Uruguay Round of free trade talks boosted steel, semiconductors and vehicles as investors believe those companies would benefit most from the outcome. Steelmaker POSCO, Hyundai Motor and Samsung Electronics - the so-called ''big three'' - went limit-up to close at 40,400 won, 36,400 won and 55,600 won, respectively. But Manho Rope and Sungchang Enterprise, leading price-to-book-ratio stocks, went limit-down to 81,500 won and 54,000 won, respectively. ''The market is expected to stage further consolidation, and then selective buying in big companies with good growth potential will spearhead the next advance,'' Mr Park said. SINGAPORE THE benchmark Straits Times Industrials index fell as investors reacted to a poor earnings result, disappointing trade figures and declines in Tokyo, traders said. Other market indices rose as investors focused on smaller shares left out of last week's rally and on Malaysian issues traded on Singapore's over-the-counter market. After hitting record highs last week, the index was lower for most of the day, closing 3.96 points lower at 2,147.54. But the over-the-counter index of mostly Malaysian shares jumped 2.4 per cent. ''Last week the index broke new highs, but the second-and third-liners didn't move,'' said Bill Ng, dealing director at Ong & Co. ''Today we saw some catching up.'' SYDNEY AUSTRALIAN stocks closed higher on expectations that growth in US and European economies will prop up metals prices and growing consumer confidence will boost Christmas sales, brokers say. Retail stocks were among the day's biggest gainers on the back of expectations of robust Christmas sales. Investors also showed interest in base metals stocks amid a perception that world metals prices have hit bottom. The All Ordinaries index closed up 6.3 points at 2,053.7. The index fell from an intra-day high of 2,058.5 following a sharp decline in Japanese stocks. ''The new theme is renewed interest in base metals stocks,'' said Ross Baildon, a trader at Barclays de Zoete Wedd. ''There's better economic growth in the US and a broadening view that European economies are at their bottom.'' Mr Baildon said investors trying to pick the bottom of the world base metals prices were beginning to enter the resources side of the market. He said trading activity - but not share prices - was expected to taper off with the approach of the Christmas holiday season. ''I think we'll see a rally [in prices] continue into Christmas,'' he said. JAKARTA SHARE prices closed mixed after quiet late trading, with several large-capped stocks finishing the day lower, brokers said. The official index rose 1.81 points to 523.54. ''Prices have been mixed today. Investor sentiment turned weak in late trading,'' a local dealer said. Astra International, the market's second biggest stock, ended 700 rupiah down at 17,000 after earlier releasing third-quarter earnings in line with market expectations. One broker said he was not too concerned by Astra's fall because it traded on small volume. ''Because the transactions were so small, you can't read too much into the fall,'' he said. WELLINGTON NEW Zealand share prices ended little changed in typically featureless Monday trade with the NZSE-40 capital index slightly down, although mainly because several stocks shed dividends. The index lost 3.48 points to close at 2,094.79 on volume of NZ$55.5 million. The underlying tone of the market is still quite positive and with optimistic noises coming out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks, the market is expected to hold firm. Agricultural stocks are expected to benefit most from a successful GATT deal. However, another slump in the Nikkei could dampen trade today, dealers said. Demand was concentrated in the market leaders, where most lost one or two cents through the session. The Manila market was closed because of Typhoon Lola and the Bangkok exchange was closed for a national holiday. The Chinese share prices are provided by Telerate. All other prices are provided by Reuter.