The benchmark Nikkei stock average hit a 13-week closing low below 23,000 on Thursday, hurt by lingering concerns over an economic slowdown arising from the continued spread of the new coronavirus.
Tokyo stocks were also weighed down by fresh worries about business results at Japanese companies amid earnings report season.
The Nikkei average of 225 selected issues on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange dived 401.65 points, or 1.72 percent, to end at 22,977.75, hitting a closing level unseen since Nov. 1 and its first finish below 23,000 since the same date. On Wednesday, the key market gauge rose 163.69 points.
The Topix index of all TSE first-section issues finished down 25.18 points, or 1.48 percent, at 1,674.77, after gaining 7.67 points the previous day.
After opening lower, the market steadily extended losses through the early afternoon as fears of a global economic slowdown grew, with the deadly viral disease spreading across China and beyond, including Japan, brokers said.
In addition, optimism over a recovery in corporate earnings took a hit after semiconductor-related Screen Holdings revised its earnings forecast downward for the year to March.
Heavy selling abated somewhat in the afternoon, helped by speculation about exchange-traded fund purchases by the Bank of Japan, brokers said.
“Tokyo stocks fell in tandem with a drop in Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index, which suffered the second straight day of a sharp fall after a break,” said Yutaka Miura, senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities Co.
With the World Health Organization planning to convene an emergency meeting later on Thursday, investor caution over the spread of the coronavirus mounted, Miura added.
“Investors feared a global stock sell-off, with Hong Kong stocks falling over 2 percent and U.S. index futures trading lower,” another brokerage official said.
Falling issues far outnumbered rising ones 1,819 to 296 in the TSE’s first section, while 40 issues were unchanged.
Volume rose to 1.367 billion shares from Wednesday’s 1.032 billion shares.
Of the 33 subsector indexes, 32 dropped except for the securities sector.
Screen Holdings incurred a daily limit loss of 19.26 percent. Other semiconductor-related names such as Tokyo Electron and Sumco also took hefty losses.
Export-oriented issues such as technology giant Sony and automaker Toyota met with heavy selling, reflecting a risk-averse mood.
Among other major losers were clothing chain Fast Retailing and daily goods maker Kao.
On the other hand, Fanuc attracted purchases after the industrial robot producer revised its forecast for consolidated operating profit upward for the year to March.
Also on the positive side were internet services firm CyberAgent and control equipment maker Omron.
In index futures trading on the Osaka Exchange, the key March contract on the Nikkei average plunged 390 points to end at 22,970.