Japan quake, tsunami send Asian shares lower

Asian stock markets fell today, with Tokyo tumbling almost five percent as dealers went into selling mode after last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami that hammered Japan.The yen surged to a four-month high after the Japanese central bank pumped a record amount of money into financial markets while auto makers were hammered more than 10 percent after being forced to close factories and halt production.

Tokyo’s Nikkei stock index fell 5.42 percent at one point — its lowest level since November — before ending the morning 4.53 percent down. Friday’s earthquake and tsunami has so far left almost 1,600 people confirmed dead and swept away entire towns along the northeast coast.

Fears were heightened on Monday as scientists worked to try to prevent a meltdown in a quake-hit nuclear plant near Tokyo, with reports of a further explosion at one of its reactors.
Among car makers Toyota slumped 10.43 percent, rival Nissan plunged 10.77 percent and Honda dived 7.70 percent The catastrophe in Japan hit markets around the region, with Hong Kong down 0.51 percent, Sydney off 0.87 percent, Shanghai 0.26 percent lower and Seoul 1.18 percent down.

As the Nikkei sank to lows not seen since November the Bank of Japan injected 12 trillion yen ($167 billion) into the short-term money market to support confidence.

The fund provision is the largest ever in a single operation by the Bank of Japan.

“We will take every possible measure, including providing liquidity, to ensure the stability of financial markets and smooth settlements (of business deals),” a bank spokesman said.

The move sent the yen racing to its highest level versus the greenback since November, hitting 80.60 to the dollar before easing back.

In morning Tokyo trade the dollar changed hands at 82.20 yen against 81.91 in New York late Friday. The euro traded at 114.53 yen, compared with 113.89 in New York.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a televised national address Sunday that the country was facing its worst crisis since the end of World War II.

“The current situation of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear plants is in a way the most severe crisis in the 65 years since World War II,” he said.

Oil slipped on concerns demand from Japan will drop off.

New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, dipped $1.28 to $99.88 per barrel and Brent North Sea crude for April delivery lost $1.39 to $112.45.

However, Chen Xin Yi, commodities analyst for Barclays Capital said prices were likely to pick up later as fuel oil imports rise due to the lost nuclear power capacity.

Gold opened at $1,422.00-$1,423.00 an ounce in Hong Kong, up from Friday’s close of $1,415.00-$1,416.00.

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