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The Tokyo stock market and the yen fell sharply Monday, the year’s first trading day, amid lingering fears about the ailing economy and the beleaguered banking industry.The 225-issue Nikkei average fell 301.90 points, or 1.98 percent, to end the half-day session at 14,956.84.The gloom in the financial markets deepened as the downtrend in the yen’s value — a major factor behind foreign selling — continued unabated. The yen was quoted at 132.83-86 to the dollar at 5 p.m. — its lowest level since May 1992 — compared with 129.91-93 late Dec. 30. It fell to the 133 level in early trading Monday in London — its highest point in five years and eight months.Following a traditional hand-clapping ceremony to mark the year’s first trading day, the market started on an upbeat note, with Wall Street’s weekend upswing spilling over into Tokyo trading. The initial burst also followed a speech by Tokyo Stock Exchange President Mitsuhide Yamaguchi, who called for stepped-up efforts by brokerages to restore investor confidence in the Japanese stock market.But the euphoria soon died as a number of stocks came under severe selling pressure. The strong rebound on Dec. 30, the final trading day for 1997, was short-lived, with fears of bankruptcies and growing unemployment weighing heavily on investor sentiment.Amid unnerving reports from all economic corners, the market has been on a steady decline since the Nikkei hit its 1997 high of 20,681.07 on June 16. The impact of the April tax rises aside, the market has been stunned by the spreading financial scandal involving the top four brokerages.Investor sentiment was badly shaken by the revelations of illegal payoffs to corporate racketeers, compensation of trading loses for favored corporate customers and “tobashi” stock shuffling to keep trading losses from appearing in clients’ financial reports. Similar scandals rocked the nation’s financial markets and political world in 1991.Then came reports on surprise failures of banks and securities companies, including Hokkaido Takushoku Bank, the nation’s 10th largest city bank, and Yamaichi Securities Co., the fourth largest brokerage. Fears of more bankruptcies sent the Tokyo stock market into a free fall, and the rout left investors with huge losses and shattered emotions.The TSE is down 23.1 percent from exactly one year ago, when it sat at 19,446.00. It is down 61.57 percent from the late 1989 peak of 38,915.87. On the currency market, the yen, too, has been on a steady slide since hitting a postwar high of 79.75 to the dollar on April 19, 1995.

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