Asian markets dive on skepticism over Bush's package

( dpa ) - Tokyo stocks hit their lowest point in more than two years Monday and Hong Kong stocks saw their biggest one-day percentage fall since 2001 as fears over a looming US recession drove the market down nearly 5.5 per cent.

Japanese investors remained skeptical over US President George W Bush's economic stimulus package and shed a wide variety of issues.

The Nikkei 225 Stock Average plunged 535.35 points, or 3.86 per cent, to close at 13,325.94.

The broader Topix index of all first-section issues fell 47.76 points, or 3.56 per cent, to 1,293.74.

After Wall Street's declines last week, Tokyo players expressed scepticism whether Bush's stimulus package would be enough to pull the world's largest economy out of recession.

The US president on Friday called for a package worth up to 150 billion dollars of tax breaks and other measures for individuals and businesses.

Analysts said the stock plunges and instability of the US economy may lead the Bank of Japan's policy board to leave the key interest rate unchanged at 0.5 per cent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index shed 1,383.01 points to close the day at 23,818.86, 5.49 per cent lower than Monday's closing figure. Turnover was 117 billion Hong Kong dollars.

The previous biggest one-day percentage loss on the Hang Seng Index since 2001 came only last Wednesday when the market shed 5.37 per cent as part of a general downward spiral throughout January.

Analysts said the Hang Seng Index along with other Asian markets was driven down by negative sentiment over Bush's economic stimulus package announced in the US over the weekend.

Many people fear the package is inadequate and will do little to stop the slump in the US that an increasing number of experts now believe is inevitable.

Elsewhere in China, shares on the key Shanghai Composite Index, which reflects shares traded in both local and foreign currency, closed at 4,911.44, down 5.14 per cent, or 269.07 points.

The Shanghai index closed on Monday at its lowest value since December 19, after its biggest daily fall for six months.

The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index also fell by 4.62 per cent on Monday.

Banks and real-estate companies again lost heavily, with analysts forecasting more government measures to control investment this month.

Shares also fell sharply on the Seoul stock exchange, with the benchmark Kospi index losing 51.16 points, or 3 per cent, to close at 1,683.56.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers 620 to 188. The main index of the technology-heavy Kosdaq market fell 14.45 points to 651.87.

India's benchmark Sensex plunged 10.07 per cent and recorded its biggest loss in several months amid selling pressure fuelled by weak global cues.

The 30-share Sensex, which has been recording a bear-run for the last five trading sessions, shed 1,915.26 points to 17,098.44 after mid-session.

Similarly, the wider 50-stock S& P CNX Nifty of the National Stock Exchange, fell by 12.19 per cent as it dropped by 695.75 points at 5009.55.

Almost all blue-chip stocks were pushed to their lows as metal and realty stocks were hit the most.

Australian stocks fell in tandem with Asia, losing 2.9 per cent on similar fears of a recession in the United States.

The All Ordinaries index gave up 168 points, or 2.9 per cent, to close at 5,630.

The Australian market has fallen for 11 consecutive days - the longest losing streak in more than 20 years. It's down almost 20 per cent for its November high-water mark.

Bargain hunters who entered the market in the last hour failed to lift the index.

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