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Asian stocks sink on worsening global economy

Hong Kong, October 23, 2008

Asian stocks fell to a 4-year low on Thursday on growing fears a global recession would depress corporate earnings, while the dollar rose to a 2-year high against the euro, underpinned by the unwinding of risky trades.

Investors have mostly sought refuge in government debt of the euro zone, Japan and the United States as well as the yen, after credit market stabilization in the last week unearthed a renewed focus on the adverse impact of the financial crisis on real economies, especially in emerging markets.

The cost of insurance against sovereign debt default in countries such as South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines soared, with a sense of panic festering two days after Argentina moved to nationalize its pension system. The step was interpreted by investors as a desperate measure to stave off default.

Markets in developing countries, especially those that depend on portfolio flows to balance their current accounts, were abandoned overnight, with almost no one spared from a sharp slowdown in the global economy that has pushed crude prices below $70 a barrel and dragged copper prices to a three-year low.

The outlook for export-dependent Asian economies darkened, hitting the shares of many high-profile companies that have staked their business on overseas sales, such as Samsung Electronics and Canon Inc.

'After a raft of U.S. earnings came out dismally, companies are set to cut costs, mostly by laying off a significant portion of their employees. Worry about massive unemployment and its impact on the real economy is deepening,' said Kim June-kie, a market analyst at SK Securities in Seoul.

The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan fell 5.5 percent to its lowest since October 2004.

The global emerging markets index was down 3.7 percent to a near 4-year low, and its 35 percent drop so far in October outpaced the 25 percent decline on the all-country world index.

Japan's Nikkei share average slumped 5.5 percent, having now fallen 21 percent in October alone. Japanese exporters have been undercut by the persistent strength of the yen, which reduces their competitiveness. The yen hit a five-year high against the euro earlier on Thursday.

South Korea's KOSPI index fell 8.5 percent, led by shares of Samsung Electronics and steel producer
POSCO.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 4.7 percent at the lowest since April 2005.

Some property stocks managed to gain after the Chinese government late on Wednesday announced policies to increase homeownership.

China Overseas Land's stock rose 2.1 percent, despite a 6.8 per cent drop in mainland Chinese stocks listed in Hong Kong

'Yesterday's move can be considered part of an overall effort to give a light stimulus to the economy, but in my view is primarily focused on the real estate sector. These changes also illustrate that the Party is capable of taking proactive steps to deal with a changing economic environment,' said Andy Rothman, China macro strategist with CLSA in Shanghai.

'A good time to look at residential developer stocks,' he said in a report.

Yen in demand

The US dollar struck a 2-year high against the euro while the yen hit a near 6-year peak against the European single currency as investors bailed on bets on higher-yielding and emerging market currencies built up in recent years.

The euro slipped 0.3 percent from late U.S. trade to $1.2815. In early Asian trade, the European single currency fell as low as $1.2726, its lowest since November 2006, on trading platform EBS. The euro slid as low as 124.15 yen, its lowest since January 2003, before rising to 125.00 yen, down 0.5 percent on the day.

Analysts at banks such as Citigroup and Morgan Stanley expect the yen to continue strengthening as Japanese banks and investors slash their overseas exposure, though economic conditio


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