Asian Markets Plunge on Fears Crisis is Spreading

Asian stock markets plunged Monday as government bank bailouts in the U.S. and Europe failed to alleviate fears of a global financial crisis that would depress world economic growth.

A man walks past an electronic screen showing the Hang Seng Index at a bank in Hong Kong Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008. Hong Kong shares dropped sharply Wednesday in morning trading, tracking weakness on Wall Street after losses posted overnight by Citigroup Inc. and fears the U.S. is slipping into recession. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

SINGAPORE - Asian stock markets plunged Monday as government bank bailouts in the U.S. and Europe failed to alleviate fears of a global financial crisis that would depress world economic growth.

Investors took scant comfort from Washington's passage of a $700 billion bank bailout on Friday, focusing instead on a dismal U.S. jobs report that suggested the U.S. economy — a vital export market for Asia — could slide into a recession.

As the financial turmoil deepened in Europe, Germany on Sunday announced a bailout package totaling 50 billion euros ($69 billion) for Hypo Real Estate, the country's second-biggest commercial property lender, after a rescue plan by private lenders fell apart. The move was part of a scramble by European governments to save failing banks.

Across Asia, all markets were in the red. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index fell to its lowest level in 4 1/2 years, sinking 4.25 percent to 10,473.09.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slid 4.3 percent to 16,927.87. Markets in mainland China, Australia, South Korea, India, Singapore and Thailand also fell sharply.

In Russia, the RTS stock index tumbled more than 7 percent in first 20 minutes of trading.

"This credit crunch looks like it's not going away any time soon," said Alex Tang, head of research at brokerage Core Pacific-Yamaichi in Hong Kong. "Apart from a credit crunch in Europe, investors are quite concerned about the worsening outlook on the U.S. economy."

Investors appeared spooked by a series of developments out of Europe over the weekend.

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said Sunday that France's BNP Paribas SA had committed to taking a 75-percent stake in troubled European bank Fortis NV. British treasury chief Alistair Darling also said he was ready to take "pretty big steps that we wouldn't take in ordinary times" to help the country weather the credit crunch.

The outlook for the U.S. economy darkened after figures released Friday showed that 159,000 jobs in the U.S. were lost last month, the fastest pace in more than five years.

Such concerns overshadowed any investor optimism over the U.S. House of Representatives' approval Friday of a massive bailout plan that will allow the U.S. government to buy distressed mortgages and securities backed by mortgages from banks and other financial institutions.

Investors questioned how long it would take for the package to unfreeze credit markets, restore bank lending and generally shore up the U.S. economy.

"The market had already figured in the package's passage," said Yukio Takahashi at Shinko Securities Co. in Tokyo. "There are strong doubts about its implementation."

Japanese financial companies and industries dependent on exports, such as steel, were especially hard hit Monday. Nippon Steel Corp. stock tumbled 9.8 percent, while Mizuho Financial Group was down 8.3 percent in morning trading.

Trading in mainland China resumed after a weeklong holiday break with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index sinking 5.2 percent to 2,173 by midafternoon.

Banks and other financial shares saw heavy declines. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank fell 7 percent and Bank of China slipped 3.6.

Shares of Ping An Insurance Co. rose even after it said Monday it will record a $2.3 billion loss on its stake in European bank Fortis in the biggest blow yet to a Chinese institution from the global credit crisis. Ping An's shares were up 1.6 percent.

U.S. stock index futures were nearly 2 percent lower, suggesting Wall Street would open lower Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 157.47, or 1.5 percent, to 10,325.38 on Friday.

In currencies, the euro slid to $1.3570 from $1.3774 late Friday. But the dollar was weaker against the yen, falling to 103.66 from 105.30 yen late Friday.

Oil prices tumbled on speculation that slower global growth will cut crude demand. Light, sweet crude for November delivery was down $3.23 to $90.65 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


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