Asia stocks dive to 4-year lows


Posted at Oct 27 2008 12:55 PM | Updated as of Oct 27 2008 08:55 PM

HONG KONG – Asian shares extended losses on Monday, with Japan's Nikkei briefly hitting its lowest since 1982, as central bank policy moves including a record rate cut in South Korea were not enough to allay fears of a global recession.

Trading was chaotic amid continued doubts over whether governments can stem a crisis that is menacing financial markets, worldwide economic growth and company earnings.

Japan pledged fresh measures on Monday to try to shield the world's second-biggest economy from the financial crisis and said the Group of Seven would issue a joint statement on the yen, which has risen rapidly as investors flee riskier investments.

The yen slipped slightly against the dollar after the comments while Japanese shares pared losses but remained in negative territory.

Earlier in the day, South Korea slashed interest rates in an emergency meeting and Australia's central bank said it had intervened on Friday to support its tumbling currency.

The actions come in response to last week's sell-off in global stock and currency markets that set all kinds of largely unwelcome milestones. Signs of caution were evident throughout, as gold and some regional bonds rose on a bid to safety.

"The outlook in terms of growth and exports remains shaky, so it's hard to make a case for any sustained EM (emerging markets) rally for now," said Win Thin, a senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in an email to clients.

"We continue to believe that markets will reward those countries that are acting proactively to avoid a deeper economic slowdown," he also wrote.

Japan's Nikkei index swung wildly in the morning session, falling to its lowest level in 26 years in early trade before making a short-lived rebound. By midday it was off 0.2 percent.

Lenders such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group tumbled on concerns they will need to raise billions of dollars to offset hefty losses on their stock portfolios as a global equity market rout continues. MUFJ fell 11 percent.

After a volatile start, the MSCI index of Asian stocks outside Japan fell for a fourth consecutive session, losing 2.8 percent as of 0325 GMT, marking its lowest since June 2004.

The MSCI index has now lost about 41 percent since Sept 12, right before the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brother' set off a fresh round of heavy market selling. The index is down more than 60 percent for the year.

Other Asian markets also dropped amid skepticism that moves by policy makers will be enough in the short-term to stave off eroding economies or sharp drops in corporate earnings.

South Korean shares slumped 2.8 percent, even after the central bank cut interest rates by 75 basis points in its biggest such move ever.

Taiwan and Hong Kong shares fell more than 5 percent each at one point, with smaller losses seen in Australia and Shanghai. Trading was briefly halted in the Philippines after the market fell 10 percent, while Singapore was closed for a holiday.

Policy firepower?

The actions by Asian policy makers come days ahead of a widely expected interest rate cut of 50 basis points by the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday and the U.S. advance report on third-quarter economic growth due on Thursday.

Few expect the sinking global economy to recover quickly despite moves by central banks to cut rates, or government efforts that have so far included pledging about $4 trillion to support banks and thaw frozen credit market.

Emerging markets have been hit especially hard in the global sell-off. Several more countries are expected to turn the International Monetary Fund after Ukraine on Sunday agreed on a $16.5 billion loan package to ease the effects of the financial crisis.

Investors have thus looked for safer havens, or to other asset classes that have recently outperformed, while dumping those deemed as riskier.

Gold gained to $734.95 an ounce compared to $731.50 in late New York trading on Friday, paring earlier strong gains.

The Group of Seven big industrialized economies said on Monday that a rapid rise of the yen against other currencies was bad for both markets and the economy and that it would watch developments and cooperate accordingly.

The yen slipped slightly as traders pondered whether the G7 statement could be a precursor to official intervention in major currencies to stem the sharp surge in the yen.

The currency in the world's second-largest economy has gained as many market players have rushed to unwind carry trades built up over the last several years in which they borrowed the yen to invest in higher-yielding assets.

The dollar edged up to 94.05 yen from near 93.60 after the comments, holding off a 13-year low of 90.87 yen hit on Friday. The euro rose to 118.30 yen from 117.65 yen.

Oil was range-bound at near $64 a barrel on Monday, stopping a slide that saw crude tumble $4 to a 16-month low despite an emergency production from OPEC.