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Markets across Asia plunge

AP |March 5, 2007

TOKYO - Markets in Asia and Europe fell again Monday, extending their slide into a second week as investors worried about a possible global slowdown dumped stocks that had surged in recent weeks.

Also sparking jitters was the yen's jump to a three-month high against the dollar as investors reversed so-called yen-carry trades. A decline in this trading practice, which involved borrowing money at Japan's ultra-low interest rates to invest in higher-yielding assets elsewhere, could hurt global liquidity.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index fell for a fifth day, tumbling 575.68 points, or 3.34 percent, to 16,642.25 points, dragged down by major exporters such as Canon Inc., Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news). and Toyota Motor Corp., whose earnings are eroded by a stronger yen. Since reaching a nearly seven-year high last Monday, the Nikkei index has slid 8.64 percent.

Markets in Hong Kong, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India and South Korea all fell sharply Monday, continuing their declines from last week, when a 9 percent plunge in Chinese stocks on Tuesday triggered a sell-off on Wall Street and other global markets.

European markets also opened lower Monday, with Britain's benchmark FTSE 100 down 1.5 percent in early trading, France's CAC 40 sliding 1.8 percent and Germany's DAX sinking 2.1 percent.

"I don't know where the domino effect will stop," said Jose Vistan, research director at AB Capital Securities in Manila, Philippines, where the benchmark index sank 4.5 percent. "Emotions are the ones driving share prices right now."

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index tumbled 4 percent to its lowest since mid-December. Australia's stock market which had hit records last month fell for a fifth day, sinking 2.3 percent.

South Korea's benchmark index dropped 2.7 percent and Indian stocks were down nearly 4 percent.

"When there's such a big market move in such a short period of time, there's that element of surprise and confusion," said Teruhisa Ishikawa, section chief for investors information at Mizuho Investors Securities Co.

Funds and institutional investors tend to go on a selling binge to trim losses in reaction to such market moves, he said, adding that what was ahead was still unclear.

In China, the Shanghai Composite index fell a more modest 1.6 percent, but foreign-currency denominated "B shares" tumbled after officials denied rumors those stocks might be merged with the mainstream Chinese-currency "A shares."

A lack of market-boosting news as the Chinese national legislature began its annual session also appeared to sap buying enthusiasm.

Some analysts see the market sell-off as a healthy correction for markets that had risen too far, too fast. China's market had doubled in value last year, for example. In Malaysia, stocks had surged 17 percent since the start of the year. Even after losing more than 10 percent since last week, they have only fallen back to their lowest since Jan. 12.

Yutaka Miura, senior analyst at Shinko Securities in Tokyo, warned that much still depended on what happens overnight in U.S. and European markets, as well as what happens to the dollar.

Investors fretted over signs that international investors were unwinding yen-carry trades, which involve borrowing the yen in Japan, where benchmark interest rates are now 0.5 percent to buy assets with greater yields in other currencies.

With the yen's recent appreciation, the profits from those carry trades are eroded, prompting some investors to return yen loans, strengthening the Japanese currency.

"Yes, there was some unwinding of yen-carry trades among short-term players, but basically traders in Tokyo were selling the yen because foreign players wanted to buy it," said Tohru Sasaki, Chief FX Strategist with JP Morgan Chase Bank.

While the Bank of Japan raised interest rates last month, rates here are still far lower than rates in the U.S. or Europe, making the yen carry trade still an attractive strategy, analysts said.

The yen's appreciation accelerated as its gains triggered stop-loss buy orders early Monday, sending the dollar as low as 115.47 yen in morning trade, its lowest level since Dec. 8.


Associated Press writers Carl Freire in Tokyo, Teresa Cerojano in Manila, Elaine Kurtenbach in Shanghai and Toby Anderson in London contributed to this report.



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