Worried Asian Investors Pray Amid Stock Plunge

By: Yuri Kageyama
By: Yuri Kageyama
After a free-fall in share prices this week, investors in Asia could do little else but pray.

An investor reacts as he looks at the stock price monitor at a private security company Friday, Oct. 10, 2008, in Shanghai, China. Chinese shares dropped Friday for a fifth day, adding to Asian losses as financials and agricultural stocks fell. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index finished down 3.57 percent, or 74.01 points, to close at 2000.57. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (AP) -- After a free-fall in share prices this week, investors in Asia could do little else but pray.

Hong Kong car dealer Paul Law said he has lost more than 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($128,800) in recent months, despite being conservative in buying what he thought were safe stocks such as banking giant HSBC Holdings.

"I no longer want to keep watch of the market," the 50-year-old man said. "It's just too heartbreaking. The bottom is not in sight at all. What I do now is just sit and pray."

Markets tumbled across Asia this week amid fears that the spreading global financial crisis that started in the U.S. will lead to a worldwide recession.

Japan's Nikkei index fell nearly 25 percent, its worst week in history. Hong Kong's benchmark index dropped 16.3 percent this week, and South Korea's, 12.6 percent. From Manila to Mumbai, the story was depressingly similar. In Indonesia, a worried government even shut down the stock exchange Wednesday; it has yet to reopen.

Shanghai marketing consultant He Xiaoliang, 30, put her whole savings into the market last year when prices surged to an all time high in October. Since then, the market has lost two-thirds of its value.

"It's painful," she said. "It turns out that I was stupid to follow the herd. Everyone around me was trading shares and I thought I could make a fortune, too."

In Singapore, a stream of worshipers caressed the fat belly of a seven-foot-tall statue of "Happy" Buddha, then touched their own clothes in hopes some good fortune would rub off.

"I came down here on my lunch break to get some luck for me and for the whole world, the economy, everything," said Albert Goh, a 60-year-old accountant. "But there are some things even Buddha can't help."

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned Asian nations aren't going to be spared in this global crisis.

"The world is caught up in a financial storm, and dark clouds fill our immediate horizon," he said in a speech in Singapore. "The fear and panic gripping financial markets everywhere will take time to subside."

The daily nose-dives on Wall Street this week are spooking investors around the world, who are increasingly worried that the slide won't stop. The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than seven percent Thursday to its lowest level in five years.

"I pray before I go to bed that the Dow will recover," said Kenji Akasaka, the 69-year-old president of a printing company in Tokyo.

Underlining the looming fears, Japan saw its first bankruptcy of a financial institution Friday, when Yamato Life Insurance Co., a medium-sized insurer, collapsed. Company officials blamed losses in plunging global stocks.

Kosuke Ono, a 32-year-old Japanese office worker who had invested some of his paycheck into high-tech and real-estate stocks, said he would pray if it would help.

"I'm worried about how much more it's going to fall, and I'd pray if that can prevent it," he said. "It's just amazing how much we're affected by the sub-prime problem, Lehman Brothers and other things that happened so far away from us."


Associated Press Writers Shino Yuasa, Tomoko A. Hosaka and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong, Alex Kennedy in Singapore and Elaine Kurtenbach in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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