LONDON (CNNfn) - Asia's stock markets all tumbled Monday, with Tokyo's leading index closing down about 3 percent after official figures showed the country's economy slipped back into recession in the last quarter of 1999. Hong Kong and South Korea both shed 4 percent, as investors bailed out of technology and Internet-related shares.|
Taiwan's main market index dropped nearly 7 percent as investors sold ahead of Saturday's presidential ballot.
The declines were blamed in part on an outbreak of nerves ahead of wholesale and retail price data due out this week that could give further hints as to the next move in U.S. interest rates when the Federal Reserve's policymakers meet March 21.
The benchmark Nikkei Average of 225 leading shares closed down 560.47 points, or 2.8 percent, at 19,189.93 as market heavyweight Sony Corp. took a drubbing, sparking a wave of selling among other high-tech and Internet-related issues.
"You're seeing a lot of the leaders coming down, they've been breaking down for a number of days now," said Robert Sasaki, equity strategist at Jardine Fleming, based in Tokyo. "I think we'll see the prices moving back up soon" as cash generated by the recent investment trust launches lifts the market, he said.
Among the hardest hit stocks Monday, consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. slid 7.6 percent to 24,300 yen, with traders citing reports of a malfunction in the firm's freshly launched PlayStation2 game console. Internet investor Softbank Corp. another recent market darling, fell 5 percent to end at 94,200 yen, while upstart rival Hikari Tsushin shed nearly 6 percent, falling by its daily limit of 5,000 yen to 88,500.
Among other high-tech stocks, Fujitsu slumped 8 percent to 3,120 yen and Hitachi dropped 12 percent to 1,200 yen.
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone plunged 8.4 percent, while its separately listed mobile-phone subsidiary, NTT DoCoMo, gave up 12.6 percent to 3.39 million yen.
Worries in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, the Hang Sang index shed 735.18 points to 17,096.68, wiping out last week's gains, amid interest rate worries and apprehension regarding Taiwan's election Saturday, which takes place against a backdrop of political tensions with mainland China.
An 8.2 percent decline in market heavyweight China Telecom depressed the Hang Seng. The telephone company's shares are up more than 75 percent over the past three months. Telephone operator Cable & Wireless HKT slid about 6 percent to $HK22.65.
Conglomerates Hutchison Whampoa and parent Cheung Kong (Holdings) slid into the red in late trade after supporting the market earlier in the day. Hutchison closed down 1.4 percent at HK$144.50, while Cheung Kong fell 2.7 percent to HK$107.00.
Internet stocks mirrored declines among their Japanese peers. Pacific Century CyberWorks, which agreed this month to buy a controlling 54 percent stake in C&W HKT from the U.K.'s Cable & Wireless, lost 6.5 percent.
The key Straits Times Index in Singapore closed down 2.6 percent at 2,042.66 with electronics-linked stocks accounting for a the bulk of the losses.
The All Ordinaries index in Sydney eased 0.3 percent to close at 3,190. Shares of media giant News Corp. gave up just over 3 percent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which announced a friendly A$8.2 billion merger Friday with rival Colonial Ltd., ended gently higher amid positive comments from analysts about the tie-up. Colonial shares also rose.
Taiwan's leading weighted index tumbled 6.6 percent, or 617.65 points, to 8,811.95 as investors sold shares amid concerns ahead of Saturday's presidential elections. Investors are worried that a victory for Chen Shui-bian, the candidate of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, may lead to a worsening in relations with China.
South Korea's benchmark Kospi index ended down 4.1 percent, while Jakarta, Manila, and Malaysia shares all fell more than one percent. Thai stocks slid 3 percent.
In currency markets, the yen was about two-thirds of a yen stronger against the U.S. dollar at 105.50, clinging to gains amid bullish comments by Japanese officials.
--from staff and wire reports