Nuclear heat melts down global stocks

Nuclear heat melts down global stocks

Japan in dire straits: Disaster takes the toll of the markets

 Wall Street also looked set for a weak opening. Futures contracts on Standard & Poor’s 500 index expiring in June sank 2.7 per cent around midday in Europe.

Unnerved by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Friday, investors in Japan had already sent the Nikkei 225 index down more than 6 per cent on Monday. They stepped up their selling Tuesday after another explosion occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and a fire released radioactive material into the air.

After falling more than 14 per cent at one point, the Nikkei index closed down 10.6 per cent at 8,605.15 points, the lowest in nearly two years. The broader Topix, or Tokyo Stock Price Index, ended 9.5 per cent lower.

Unlike on Monday, when stock market losses were largely confined to Japan, the nervousness spread Tuesday across the Asia-Pacific region and to Europe, amid fears about the impact on the broader economy and corporate activity.

The Kospi in South Korea dropped 2.4 per cent, the Taiex in Taiwan fell 3.4 per cent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong sagged 2.9 per cent.

The key index in Australia was 2.1 per cent lower, Singapore fell 2.8 per cent, and the Sensex in India declined 1.5 per cent. In mainland China, the Shanghai composite index dropped 1.4 percent.

In Europe, the DAX index in Frankfurt, one of the region’s strongest performers last year, had shed 4.9 per cent in afternoon trading, while the Euro Stoxx 50, an index of euro zone blue chips, had given up 4.1 per cent.

Analysts said investors were fleeing risky assets like equities and commodities and switching into safer cash and bonds. Volumes were much higher than normal. Yields on German bunds, French government bonds and United States Treasuries declined as prices rallied. The yield on the benchmark 10-year United States Treasury issue fell by 10 basis points in London.

Spain sold €5.5 billion, or $7.7 billion in Treasury bills Tuesday at lower rates than a month ago.

Declines in Japanese and other Asian stock markets accelerated after Kyodo news agency quoted the Tokyo metropolitan government as saying that “minute levels” of radiation have been detected in the Japanese capital.

Investors also kept an eye on fast-moving events in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Iran denounced as unacceptable the arrival of Saudi troops in Bahrain as protests against the country’s monarchy continue. The United States urged its nationals to leave the country, which hosts the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Like equities, commodities are perceived as being a risky asset and hence investors have been looking to reduce their exposure to oil, which has been surging in recent weeks. In London, the benchmark Brent crude oil futures contract was down $3.10 at $110.57 a barrel.