The Tokyo stock market plunged Monday, its first business day after an earthquake and tsunami of epic proportions laid waste to cities along Japan's northeast coast, killing thousands and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage. Shares elsewhere in Asia were mixed, while Europe mostly fell.
Oil prices dropped below $99 a barrel, with the disaster threatening to send Japan, the world's third-largest economy, into a recession that could crimp demand for crude. In currencies, the dollar was down against the yen and the euro.
In early European trading, Britain's FTSE 100 was down 0.4 percent at 5,806.75 while Germany's DAX slid 1.8 percent to 6,858.84. France's CAC-40 was 0.6 percent lower at 3,905.42. Wall Street looked set to head south, with Dow Jones industrial futures down 0.7 percent to 11,923 and S&P 500 futures 0.8 percent lower to 1,291.
In one of the most dizzying days for Japan's stock market since the 2008 financial crisis, the benchmark Nikkei 225 dived 633.94 points, or 6.2 percent, to close at 9,620.49 — wiping out this year's gains and hitting its lowest level in four months.
Worries about the economic impact of Friday's disaster, including massive power shortages that could disrupt factories, triggered a broad sell-off that hit all sectors. The broader Topix index was down 7.5 percent.
The sell-off came even as the Bank of Japan injected a record 15 trillion yen ($183.8 billion) into money markets to try to defend the already fragile economy. By flooding the banking system with cash, the central bank hopes banks will continue lending money and meet the likely surge in demand for post-earthquake funds.
Shares of Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, nose-dived more than 23 percent as it struggled with malfunctioning nuclear reactors and a power shortage that led the company to warn it may need to ration electricity.
Companies with nuclear power-related businesses registered staggering losses, including Hitachi Ltd., down 16.2 percent, and Toshiba Corp., down 16.3 percent. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries slumped 10 percent and Kobe Steel Ltd. skidded 6.4 percent.
Car makers declined partly because quake-stricken northeastern Japan is a major center for auto production, complete with a myriad of parts suppliers and a network of roads and ports for efficient distribution. Major vehicle manufactures have halted production around the country.
Toyota Motor Corp., the world's largest automaker, fell 7.9 percent, Honda lost 6.5 percent, and Nissan dropped 9.5 percent. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. lost 11.8 percent and Isuzu Motors Ltd. plummeted 9.2 percent.
Insurance companies — many of which will likely face heavy claims for lost property and infrastructure — also suffered sharp drops, including Tokio Marine Holdings Inc., down 12.4 percent. Cosmo Oil, whose refinery has been on fire since the 8.9-magnitude quake, slid by a withering 21.6 percent.
Analysts said the prognosis for Japan's economy in the near term depended heavily on whether it could stave off reactor meltdowns at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Four nuclear plants in northeastern Japan have reported damage, but the danger was greatest at the Dai-ichi plant.
"All estimates, economic and humanitarian, plainly remain contingent on the resolution of difficulties at nuclear power facilities, where two reactors are believed to have experienced partial meltdowns. Authorities have been pumping sea water into the facilities to replace coolants lost in the earthquake and thus prevent further meltdown. The degree to which this has been successful remains vague," analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a report.
Meanwhile, industrial and materials companies rose on expectations that they will benefit from Japan's eventual rebuilding efforts. Japanese construction company Kajima Corp. soared 22.2 percent and Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd. jumped 19.3 percent.
Chinese mainland shares rose, with the Shanghai Composite Index adding 0.1 percent to close at 2,937.63 and the Shenzhen Composite Index of China's smaller, second exchange gaining 0.9 percent to 1,310.99.
The health care sector showed strong gains, with Chinese producers of drugs and medical equipment anticipating strong demand from Japan to help the thousands of victims injured in the magnitude-8.9 temblor. Nanjing Pharmaceutical Co. rose 10 percent.
Meanwhile, Chinese exporters felt only a pinch, according to Peng Yunliang, an analyst at Shanghai Securities.
"Exports to Japan are not as great as to Europe and the United States, so it will not hurt the Chinese economy," Peng said. "Maybe in the reconstruction, Chinese exports may rise up. There is an opportunity."
Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.4 percent to 23,345.88 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.8 percent to 1,971.23.
Shares in Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines were lower. Benchmarks in Indonesia and Thailand rose.
On Wall Street on Friday, stocks finished a down week with modest gains. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 59.79 points, or 0.5 percent, to 12,044.40. The S&P 500 rose 9.17, or 0.7 percent, to 1,304.28. The Nasdaq composite gained 14.59, or 0.5 percent, to 2,715.61.
The prospect of falling oil demand from Japan sent crude oil prices down. Benchmark crude for April delivery was down $2.28 at $98.88 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost $1.54 to $101.16 on Friday.
The dollar was at 81.79 yen after hitting a three-week high of 83.30 yen on Friday in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. The euro rose to $1.3935 from $1.3890 late Friday.
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