World Markets Retreat Amid Growing Corporate Woes

A passer-by walks past an electronic stock board in downtown Tokyo Friday, Oct. 10, 2008. Japanese shares nose-dived more than 10 percent in morning trade Friday as panicked investors dumped stocks following massive overnight losses on Wall Street and on growing fears over a global recession. The benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 974.12 points, or 10.64 percent, to close the morning session at 8,183.37. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
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HONG KONG – Asian stocks fell Friday, with Japan's benchmark tumbling almost 4 percent, as grim news about major companies like Microsoft and Sony underscored the depth of the worst global slowdown in decades. European markets fell in early trade amid news the British economy had officially slid into recession.

Every major market in Asia retreated, giving up most of the gains from the previous session when investors shrugged off gloomy economic data about China and Japan and sent stocks higher.

The growing corporate woes — which highlighted the beating some of the world's richest and best-managed companies were taking amid the global slump — weighed on sentiment across Asia.

In the U.S., investors were stunned by news software giant Microsoft Corp. was slashing 5,000 jobs — the first mass layoffs in its 34-year history — and had suffered an 11 percent drop in profit last quarter.

Things were similarly bleak across Asia, where Japan's Sony Corp. projected its first annual net loss in 14 years and job cuts. In South Korea, Samsung Electronics, the world's largest manufacturer of flat screen televisions and memory chips, posted its first ever quarterly loss Friday as the slowdown hit prices.

Adding to the gloom, U.S. unemployment and housing data released overnight was worse than expected and pointed to further deterioration in the world's largest economy. Shortly after European trading started, figures showed the British economy was in a recession after a 1.5 percent contraction in the fourth quarter.

"I don't see any signs of revival in the economy this year, definitely not," said Peter Lai, investment manager at DBS Vickers in Hong Kong. "There are too many uncertainties, too much negative news. I don't think the worst is over."

In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 shed 1.5 percent, Germany's DAX lost 2.4 percent and France's CAC-40 was down 2.4 percent.

Earlier in the day, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average dropped 306.49 points, or 3.8 percent, to 7,745.25. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index eased 0.6 percent to 12,578.60, while South Korea's Kospi sank 2.1 percent to 1,093.40 points.

Elsewhere, Australia's main index dived more than 4 percent, Shanghai's benchmark was down 0.7 percent and Singapore's stock measure lost 0.6 percent.

With Wall Street futures falling, U.S. markets were poised to open lower. Dow futures fell 170 points, or 2.1 percent, to 7,922 and S&P 500 futures lost 19.70 points, or 2.4 percent, to 805.80.

Throughout Asia, the region's bellwether companies were among the worst hit.

Shares of Sony tumbled 7 percent to their lowest level in a month. Nippon Steel Corp., Japan's biggest steelmaker, lost 5 percent after saying it would cut production by the largest amount in its four-decade history as auto demand gets squelched by the global slowdown.

Toyota Motor Corp. shed 1.6 percent on news it's considering slashing more than 1,000 full-time jobs in North America and the United Kingdom.

In South Korea, Samsung dropped 3.9 percent after the company posted a loss of 20 billion won ($14.4 million) in the three months ended Dec. 31. The company earned 2.21 trillion won a year earlier.

Overnight losses in U.S. and European markets contributed to declines in Asia.

Investors in the West were disheartened by news U.S. construction of new homes and apartments slid 15.5 percent last month, closing out the worst year for builders since at least 1959. Meanwhile, first-time applications for unemployment benefits jumped last week to 589,000, the most since 1982.

Following a volatile session, the Dow closed down 105.30, or 1.3 percent, to 8,122.8. Broader market indexes recovered some of their losses but still dropped, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index off 12.74, or 1.5 percent, at 827.50.

Oil prices were lower, with light, sweet crude for March delivery fell $1.28 to $42.39 a barrel in Asian trade. The contract rose overnight 12 cents settle at $43.67.

In currencies, the dollar sank to 88.17 yen from 89.03 yen late Thursday. The euro was lower at $1.2780 compared to $1.3001.