Thursday, November 20, 2008

World stocks tumble; Tokyo and Seoul lose almost 7% each

HONG KONG – World stock markets tumbled Thursday, with benchmarks in Tokyo and Seoul losing almost 7 percent each, after recession fears sent Wall Street plunging and Japan suffered its biggest drop in exports in seven years.

The slide in Asian and European shares extended a global sell-off that accelerated overnight amid lowered projections for U.S. economic activity next year from the Federal Reserve and worries over the fate of America's Big Three automakers, which are pleading for emergency loans from Washington.

The uncertainty facing companies around the world was evident after U.S. consumer prices fell 1 percent last month, the largest amount in the past 61 years. While beneficial to consumers, lower prices hurt corporate profits and raise the threat of deflation.

The rout continued as trading opened in Europe, where Britain's FTSE 100, Germany's DAX and France's CAC-40 all fell more than 2 percent early in the session. Oil and other commodities were also down.

"We've gone past the poor sentiment stage," said Miles Remington, head of Asian sales trading at BNP Paribas Securities in Hong Kong.

"People are looking for any kind of positive and there are just no positives out there. Everyone seems to be united in the depressed global outlook," he said. "Whether it's commodities or equities, everything seems to be on a downturn."

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 average slid 570.18 points, or 6.9 percent, to 7,703.04. Japan said exports in October sank 7.7 percent, the biggest decline since 2001, causing the country — an export powerhouse — to report a rare trade deficit.

Earlier this week, figures showed Japan had slid into a recession in the third quarter, joining Hong Kong and the 15 nation euro-zone in two straight quarters of economic contraction. With demand shrinking abroad and a surging yen further undercutting company earnings, Japanese exporter shares took a hit.

Isuzu Motors Ltd. fell 17 percent after the truck maker said it will cut 1,400 contract workers as it scales back production for this fiscal year. Isuzu is the latest automaker to announce production cuts, joining domestic rivals such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.

Trade was similarly grim across the Asia.

In South Korea, the main index fell for its eighth straight session, losing 6.7 percent to 948.69, as the country's currency, the won, fell to its lowest level in more than a decade. Hong Kong's Hang Seng benchmark sank 517.24 points, or 4 percent, to 12,298.56.

In Australia, the main stock measure retreated 4.2 percent as weakening commodity prices dragged down the country's resource giants — BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were both down 9 percent or more.

Compared to the rest of Asia, mainland China's bourses suffered modest losses, after speculation over a possible deal by Disney to build a long-awaited theme park in Shanghai boosted property shares. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.7 percent.

In New York Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 427.47 points, or 5.07 percent, to 7,997.28, while the S&P 500 slid 6.12 percent to 806.58. Both closed at their lowest levels since March 2003, and are rapidly approaching the lows of the 2000 to 2002 bear market.

Wall Street appeared poised for another bout of selling. Dow futures were down 92 points, or 1.1 percent, to 7,935, while S&P futures were down 12.6 points, or 1.6 percent, to 799.9.

Oil prices were at their lowest in nearly two years. Light, sweet crude for December delivery lost 84 cents to $52.78 a barrel in Asian trade. Overnight, the contract retreated 77 cents to settle at $53.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest since January 2007.

In currencies, the dollar weakened to 95.25 yen from 95.88 yen Wednesday. The euro edged up to $1.2522 from $1.2487.

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