Global markets plunge amid worries of US recession

Japan's Nikkei 225 index nose-dives 5.7%; Australia's benchmark index sinks 7.1%; Hong Kong's Hang Seng index down 8.7%.

Tokyo Stock Exchange 224 (photo credit: AP [file])
Tokyo Stock Exchange 224
(photo credit: AP [file])
Global stock markets extended their shakeout into a second day Tuesday, plunging amid fears that a possible US recession will cause a worldwide economic slowdown. The dramatic declines in Asia and Europe were expected to spread to Wall Street, where stock index futures were already down sharply hours before the trading day began. Japan's Nikkei 225 index nose-dived 5.7 percent - its biggest percentage drop in nearly 10 years - to 12,573.05, a day after falling 3.9 percent. Australia's benchmark index sank 7.1 percent, its steepest slide in nearly 20 years. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index, which slumped 5.5 percent Monday, finished down 8.7 percent. In China, the Shanghai Composite index lost 7.2 percent to close at its lowest level since August. Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram urged investors to remain calm after trading in Mumbai was halted for an hour when the stock market there fell 10 percent within minutes of opening. In volatile afternoon trading, the Sensex was down 7.2 percent. "There is no reason at all to allow the worries of the Western world to overwhelm us," Chidambaram said. Investors across the region dumped shares in frenetic trading on worries that the US economy, battered by a credit crisis and housing slump, will shrink in coming months, weakening demand for Asian exports. Markets have been plunging amid pessimism about the ability of American authorities to prevent a recession. The Federal Reserve has indicated it will lower interest rates further, and US President George W. Bush has proposed an economic stimulus package that includes $145 billion in tax cuts, but investors around the world are doubtful that the measures will lift the economy quickly. "Unless we get some positive 'shock effects,' such as drastic measures from the US government, there is almost no hope for a recovery in stocks," said Koji Takeuchi, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute in Tokyo. Oil and gold prices also fell. Light, sweet crude for February delivery fell to US$87.72 a barrel on expectations that slower US growth will lead to less demand for crude. Spot gold, which usually benefits from market uncertainty, fell to a two-week low of $855.20 per troy ounce. US markets were closed Monday for a holiday commemorating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. But Wall Street future prices were down sharply, portending a plunge when trading begins at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time. Dow Jones industrial average futures were down 621 points, or 5.1 percent, to 11,485, while Standard & Poor's 500 futures were down 70 points, or 5.3 percent, at 1,255. Noritsugu Hirakawa, who monitors stock trading at Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo, said investors were spooked by the drastic falls on Chinese and Indian markets - the two emerging economies that are viewed as sustaining global growth even as the US economy sputters. "The end to the slides in Asian stocks is nowhere in sight," he said. "There is even speculation that China may be exposed to the US subprime mortgage crisis." In Europe on Monday, investors also dumped stocks, sending the Britain's benchmark FTSE-100 down 5.5 percent and France's CAC-40 Index sliding 6.8 percent. Germany's blue-chip DAX 30 plunged 7.2 percent to 6,790.19. That sell-off continued Tuesday throughout Asia, with benchmark indices in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines all falling more than 4 percent. Indonesia's market sank 8.5 percent. Asian markets have been in a downward spiral for most of January. Since the start of the year, Japan's Nikkei index has tumbled nearly 18 percent, while the Hang Seng is down a stunning 22 percent. Even the usually upbeat Japanese Economy Minister Hiroko Ota acknowledged that threats were growing. "We must take the approach of working together with other nations on this," she said on nationally televised news.