Nikkei tanks as fear grips Asia

9.6% nosedive caps worst week ever as region reels over Dow fall

The Associated Press

A massive selloff on Wall Street and escalating fears of a global recession sent Asian stocks plunging Friday, with Japan’s key index shedding nearly 10 percent to close out its worst week in history.

Despite recent moves by the world’s central banks to thaw frozen credit markets and boost investor confidence, their efforts have fallen flat as markets hurtled toward a global equity crisis.

“Selling is unstoppable in New York and Tokyo,” said Yutaka Miura, senior strategist at Shinko Securities Co. Ltd. in Tokyo. “Investors were gripped by fear.”

In Australia, where the S&P/ASX200 plummeted a record 8.3 percent, market watchers were calling it “Black Friday.”

“It’s way oversold in my opinion, and we haven’t reached the bottom yet,” said Roger Chandler, senior private client adviser with ABN AMRO Morgans in Sydney.

Investors across the region inundated exchanges with sell orders, dragging all benchmarks sharply lower.

Key indexes in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and India were all down about 8 percent. South Korea’s Kospi closed down 4.1 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index posted a more moderate decline of 2.8 percent.

European bourses mirrored the Asian falls. At midday London time, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was trading below 4,000 for the first time in five years after sinking 328.03, or 7.6 percent, to 3,985.77. Germany’s DAX was down 399.92, or 8.2 percent, at 4,487.08, while France’s CAC-40 was 254.03 lower, or 7.4 percent, at 3,188.67.

Trading was suspended at times in Austria, Russia, Iceland, Romania and Ukraine, while Milan halted share dealings in nearly half of its stocks because of excessive losses.

In Tokyo, Friday’s gut-wrenching turmoil left individual investors shell-shocked. Over the last week, the Nikkei has lost nearly a quarter of its value.

Kenji Akasaka, 69, president of a local printing company, said he had never seen it this bad in the 40 years he has traded stocks. He said he invests mainly in blue chips, including Toyota Motor Corp. and Nintendo Co., both of which have lost about half their value over the last year.

“I pray before I go to bed that the Dow will recover,” said Akasaka, 69, as he scanned a monitor displaying the latest market levels. “I get sleepless, thinking about losses.”

In a bid to boost liquidity, India’s central bank cut the cash reserve ratio — the amount of money banks must keep on hand — by 1.5 percentage points to 7.5 percent instead of a half-point, as had been previously announced. The move will release 600 billion rupees ($12.2 billion) into the financial system.

In Indonesia, authorities suspended trading indefinitely on the Jakarta Stock Exchange after they had halted trading Wednesday after the index plunged more than 10 percent.

Regulators in Russia ordered Moscow’s MICEX not to open for regular trading at the usual time, and the opening of the RTS was also postponed until further notice, the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency said.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index tumbled 881.06 points, or 9.6 percent, to 8,276.43, its lowest closing level since May 2003. It was its biggest one-day percentage loss since the stock market crash of October 1987.

The Tokyo bourse and the Osaka Securities Exchange briefly suspended some morning futures and options trading.

In currencies, the dollar fell to ¥98.71 Friday afternoon from ¥98.82 late Thursday. The euro stood at $1.3548 from $1.3560.