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ASIA PLUNGE

Reuters | April 18, 2005
By Eriko Amaha

The Nikkei share average tumbled 3.8 percent to close at a four-month low Monday as growing concerns about the U.S. economy and spreading anti-Japan protests in China triggered selling across the board.

The Nikkei posted its biggest one-day percentage loss since May 10, 2004. The sell-off also wiped out $118.9 billion of investor wealth -- more than Singapore's economy -- on the broader TOPIX index.

The Tokyo market was Asia's worst performer so far for the day, with Taiwan's TAIEX falling 2.94 percent, South Korea 's KOSPI falling 2.35 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng losing 2 percent in late trade.

Shipping, steel, travel and exporter firms, which have all benefited from booming demand in China, lost ground with consumer electronics company Sony Corp (SNE.N) . falling 5 percent to 3,840 yen.

"There is a possibility that the China problem could emerge as a serious threat, but at this point, deteriorating sentiment rather than fundamentals is pushing down the market," Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co., said.

The Nikkei was down 432.25 points at 10,938.44, its lowest close since Dec. 16. The TOPIX shed 3.58 percent to 1,109.49.

Many Chinese are furious at a revised Japanese school textbook they say whitewashes atrocities during Japan's 1931-45 occupation of China and also oppose Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. The demonstrations have helped push Sino-Japan relations to their worst in decades.

Nippon Steel Corp. fell 3.9 percent to 249 yen and Japan's largest shipping firm, Nippon Yusen KK, dropped 5.4 percent to 596 yen.

Travel agency Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. Ltd. plummeted 6.3 percent to 270 yen.

Taiyo Yuden Co. Ltd., a large electronic parts maker, shed 5.2 percent to 1,091 yen after anti-Japan demonstrations by 2,000 employees forced it to shut two plants in Dongguan, in Guangdong province.

Other electronics stocks also came under pressure with Toshiba Corp. falling 3.7 percent to 420 yen and NEC Corp. losing 4.3 percent to 586 yen.

Shares of auto makers gearing up to tap China's vast consumer market declined. Toyota Motor Corp. lost 2.8 percent to 3,850 yen and Nissan Motor Co. dropped 3.9 percent to 1,049 yen.

Volume was high, with 2 billion shares changing hands, the most since March 14. Decliners overwhelmed advancers 1,622 to 20.

U.S. ECONOMY IN FOCUS

Strategists said a possible slowdown of the U.S. economy was a more serious factor than the China problems.

"The real question is why the Dow Jones industrial average is nearly breaking below the 10,000 level," said Nagayuki Yamagishi, senior strategist at UFJ Tsubasa Securities.

Akino at Ichiyoshi said investors also were now questioning Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ability to pursue his reforms, as his administration struggles to repair the deteriorating relationship with China.

"I think distrust of the Koizumi administration is mounting," Akino said.

The few bright spots included Internet portal Livedoor Co., which leapt 6.4 percent to 350 yen on expectations that the company would soon reach an agreement on a tie-up with Fuji Television Network Inc.

After the market closed, the two said they had agreed on a deal to end their $2 billion takeover fight, with Fuji to take a 68.87 percent stake in radio company Nippon Broadcasting System Inc.

Fuji ended down 3.5 percent at 222,000 yen.

(Additional reporting by Risa Maeda)

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