World Markets Tumble for the Second Day

HONG KONG – World stock markets dropped for a second day Wednesday, with Tokyo and Hong Kong tumbling about 3 percent, after a dismal start to the U.S. earnings season dampened hopes that the worst of the economic slump is over.

Investors in Asia unloaded shares across most industries — from financials to energy firms and airlines — after more weakness on Wall Street that stirred talk of an end to the huge, monthlong advance in global equities since March.

But traders became defensive again as U.S. firms began releasing their first-quarter results, with giant aluminum maker Alcoa reporting a wider-than-expected loss as prices for the lightweight metal plunged amid softening demand. It was a bleak opening to the earnings period — and added to anxiety that the recession's toll on major companies could be worse than many already fear.

The outlook for Asian companies, while less horrid than many firms in the West, was still grim in a number of countries. In Japan, electronics maker Sharp Corp. warned of a bigger loss than first estimated for the fiscal year ended March, its first annual red ink in almost 60 years.

There were also renewed worries about the health of banks. Markets were focused on reports the International Monetary Fund may sharply increase its estimate of toxic asset losses at financial institutions around the world. A relatively slow start to U.S. efforts to soak up certain securities and spur more lending also hurt sentiment.

With a full economic recovery still far off, a round of selling was widely anticipated after the recent run higher that was spurred by hopes government stimulus measures were starting to take hold. Markets were also falling because many investors had expected as much and geared up to sell at the first signs of major weakness, analysts said.

"The last four weeks were detached from fundamentals and driven by a swing in sentiment," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, chief investment strategist for SJS Markets in Hong Kong. "Sentiment is negative and shaky right now."

As trading got underway in Europe, benchmarks in Britain, Germany and France were off by about 1 percent or more.

U.S. markets were headed for another round of selling after Wall Street futures fell. Dow futures lost 88 points, or 1.1 percent, to 7,674 and S&P500 futures slipped 8.6, or 1.1 percent, to 805.40.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average fell 237.84 points, or 2.7 percent, to 8,595.01, with exporter shares hurt after the dollar sank below 100 yen. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 454.11 points, or 3 percent, to 14,474.86.

Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi lost 2.9 percent to 1,262.07, while Shanghai's index dived 3.8 percent. Stock measures in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore all lost about 2 percent or more.

Falling overseas demand and prices for Asian electronics, cars and other goods have been bruising for companies and consumers alike here.

Stimulus efforts by a number of countries, notably China, have helped offset some of the pain and lifted optimism that regional growth can recover soon, though the full impact of the pump priming is still unclear.

China's measures are starting to filter through its own economy, but they may offer only modest help to other Asian nations counting on stronger Chinese demand, HSBC economists said in a report Wednesday.

Trouble at regional exporters was underscored by Sharp's announcement Wednesday that it expects to post a net loss of 130 billion yen ($1.3 billion), worse than the previous forecast for a 100 billion yen loss. The company's shares dived 6.1 percent.

Among other stocks, a top Japanese brokerage, Daiwa, fell 6 percent after announing write-downs on some of its holdings. London-based lender HSBC shed 5.6 percent to drag down Hong Kong's market.

Overnight in New York, the Dow dropped 186.29, or 2.3 percent, to 7,789.56. The blue chip index had been down nearly 214 points at its low of the day. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 19.93, or 2.4 percent, to 815.55.

Oil prices dropped in Asia as crude markets followed equities down on waning optimism the U.S. economy will soon recover from a severe recession. Benchmark crude for May delivery fell $1.17 to $47.98. The contract fell $1.90 on Tuesday to settle at $49.15.

In currencies, the dollar tumbled to 99.65 yen from 100.66 yen. The euro fell to $1.3183 from $1.3272.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us