News & Current Affairs

November 20, 2008

Asia markets follow US share drop

Asia markets follow US share drop

Man walking past share board

Concerns are increasing over the scale of the slowdown

Asian markets have plummeted after the Dow Jones share index in New York fell to its lowest level in five years, amid fears of a protracted global recession.

Japan’s Nikkei index ended 6.8% down and Hong Kong’s main index fell 5.5%.

Data showing Japan’s exports to Asia dropped in October for the first time since 2002 added to fears over the scale of the economic downturn.

On Wednesday, Wall Street shares fell 5% after the US central bank slashed its economic growth forecasts for 2009.

‘No positives’

Japan and other Asian nations are heavily reliant on exports.

Sales to other Asia nations have helped to limit the impact for Japanese exporting firms suffering from lower demand from the US and Europe.

But exports to Asia fell 4% last month from a year earlier, showing the extent of the global slowdown.

Several East Asian countries – including Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong – are already in recession and the thought that the US may be about to join them has been enough to send shares tumbling across the region.

Man walks past an electronic share price board in Toyko, Japan, 20 November 2008

Share prices in Tokyo and elsewhere slumped

Bad news from the US worries Japanese firms like Toyota and Nintendo which usually depend on American consumers to make a lot of their profit, our correspondent adds.

“We’ve gone past the poor sentiment stage,” Miles Remington, head of Asian sales trading at BNP Paribas Securities in Hong Kong, told the Associated Press news agency.

“People are looking for any kind of positive and there are just no positives out there. Everyone seems to be united in the depressed global outlook. Whether it’s commodities or equities, everything seems to be on a downturn.”

US slowdown

On Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve said the country’s gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services – could be flat or grow only marginally this year, and might shrink in 2009.

It said positive economic growth was only likely to return in 2010 and predicted further interest rate cuts might be necessary.

Month-on-month US consumer prices fell by 1% in October – the biggest drop in 60 years – which has reinforced fears of rapid slowdown.

Car problems

Carmakers were among the biggest fallers as the Dow Jones average closed down 427 points at 7,997 on Wednesday – dropping below the 8,000-level for the first time since 2003.

GM shares were down 15% at a 66-year low, while rival Ford slumped to a 26-year low.

Prospects for an industry bail-out remain uncertain and politicians have been arguing over a compromise deal.

Chief executives from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler say the firms could collapse unless they receive aid fast – which could lead to millions of job losses across the US.

But the automakers have faced fierce questions on Capitol Hill about their request for a $25bn (£16.6bn) bail-out deal.

Investors are concerned about how a possible bankruptcy among US carmakers could further hurt an already fragile economy.


What is your reaction to the stock market losses? Have you been affected by the downturn? You can send us your experiences

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September 19, 2008

Japan minister quits in rice row

Japan minister quits in rice row

Seiichi Ota. File photo.

Mr Ota only took over his portfolio in August this year

Japan’s farm minister, Seiichi Ota, has tendered his resignation because of a food scandal involving tainted rice.

Mr Ota’s ministry has admitted it was told in January 2007 that a food company was distributing rice tainted with pesticide.

Mr Ota had earlier said he saw no need to make “too much of a fuss over it”.

It has since emerged that the rice, destined for industrial uses, was resold as a food product and served to the elderly.

The rice has been found to be tainted with pesticides and mould, and was known to be unfit for human consumption.

No-one has been reported as ill as a result of eating the rice; a government official said this was because the density of contaminants was low.

“I met Prime Minister [Yasuo] Fukuda and told him my decision to resign, considering the seriousness of the tainted rice problem for the society,” Mr Ota said.

Japanese broadcaster NHK said his resignation had been accepted.

Japan faces general elections soon, possibly as early as next month.

Contamination spreads

As information trickled out, it became clear that the bad rice was sold to more than 300 firms, including brewers, food ingredient wholesalers and sweet makers.

A government report released this week showed that the rice was imported from China, Vietnam and elsewhere, and intended for use in the making of glue and other industrial products.

Instead, the Osaka-based Mikasa Foods company sold the rice on to firms which used it for making foods that have been distributed to hospitals and care homes.

Young people have also been affected as the bad rice was used in making some snacks sold in convenience stores, and in school lunches.

Japanese media reported that police said on Wednesday that the president of one of the small companies that had bought the rice from Mikasa Foods, had committed suicide by hanging himself.

When Mr Ota’s ministry first heard of the tainted rice entering the food chain, he said it was unable to uncover any wrongdoing.

Mr Ota only took over the portfolio in August this year.

The minister has come under fire after admitting his ministry “overlooked” the illegal distribution of rice unfit for human consumption.

Our correspondent says Mr Ota is known for his slips of the tongue, such as his expressed confidence that no-one would die from eating tainted rice and that no fuss was necessary.

The senior bureaucrat at the agriculture ministry had already resigned.

September 18, 2008

Central banks release more funds

Central banks release more funds

Dollar bills

The extra funds are aimed at easing banking sector woes

Global central banks are pumping billions of dollars of extra funds into money markets in a co-ordinated move to lift the amount of credit available.

The move is the fourth such joint effort since December last year. It will see the US Federal Reserve inject a further $180bn (£99bn).

The Bank of England is releasing $40bn, while the European Central Bank is to provide $55bn.

The Bank of Japan and Swiss National Bank have announced similar moves.

‘Appropriate steps’

“These measures, together with other actions taken in the last few days by individual central banks, are designed to improve the liquidity conditions in global financial markets,” said the Bank of England.

“The central banks continue to work together closely and will take appropriate steps to address the ongoing pressures.”

It does help to release some of those immediate tensions that have been building up in the money market
Ian Stannard, currency strategist, BNP Paribas

The central banks of South Korea, India, Canada and Australia have also released extra funds.

The co-ordinated move comes after four days of almost unprecedented turmoil in the global financial industry.

Firstly, US giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, while compatriot Merrill Lynch lost its independence in a rescue takeover by Bank of America.

The US government has also had to bail-out insurance giant AIG, while in the UK, thousands of jobs are predicted to go at banking group HBOS following its sale to rival Lloyds TSB.

Major problem

Analysts said the latest move by the central banks should help to ease immediate fears.

“Obviously it does not tackle the underlying root causes of the problem, but it does help to release some of those immediate tensions that have been building up in the money market,” said Ian Stannard, senior currency strategist at BNP Paribas.

Koichi Haji, chief economist at NLI Research in Tokyo, said the co-ordinated move “shows how serious the problem has become”.

“I think the root cause was letting Lehman fail,” he said.

“That made investors reluctant to supply funds to their counterparts, particularly to the smaller banks.”

September 17, 2008

Investors edgy as US stocks fall

Investors edgy as US stocks fall

A trader reacts to news in the Philippines

Investors are concerned that financial markets will remain volatile.

US stock markets sank in early trade on fears the bailout of insurance giant AIG would not be enough to dispel the gloom engulfing the financial world.

AIG’s rescue and a potential takeover of UK lender HBOS had earlier boosted confidence in Asia and Europe.

But markets were volatile as nervous investors tried to make sense of the dramatic events that have unfolded in recent days.

The widely watched Dow Jones industrial average was down 1.9% at 10,849.

Top UK mortgage lender HBOS, which has faced heavy selling this week, fell as much as 50% before recovering after it emerged that it was in advanced talks to be taken over by Lloyds TSB.

HBOS shares were down 13% at 160 pence in London, the biggest faller in the FTSE 100, after being the top gainer at one point.

It has been a tumultuous week on financial markets, with significant changes in the financial landscape.

Key events on Wednesday included:

  • Beleaguered HBOS in merger talks with Lloyds TSB after a steep fall in its share price
  • US insurance giant AIG being bailed out by the US government
  • Volatile stock markets as global investors remain nervous
  • Trading on the Russian stock exchange being suspended
  • Barclays snapping up key assets from Lehman Brothers after its bankruptcy

I don’t think anyone has got any or much confidence in market direction for more than a few days
Darren Winder, Cazenove

The FTSE 100 index of top UK shares was down 0.48% at 5,001.4, reversing earlier gains, with some banking shares hard hit.

Shares in Barclays were up 9.8%, Lloyds TSB climbed 7.9% while Royal Bank of Scotland was down 2.6%.

Topsy-turvy trade

Trade is likely to remain rocky amid concern that financial system instability will continue after the dramatic events of the past few days.

“I don’t think anyone has got any or much confidence in market direction for more than a few days,” said Darren Winder, a strategist at Cazenove.

AIG’s bail-out follows the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers, which caused share prices to plummet across the world’s financial markets.

Another investment bank, Merrill Lynch, has been sold off to Bank of America.

France’s Cac 40 share index was down 0.24%, while Germany’s Dax index was 0.64% lower, reversing earlier gains as Wall Street opened.

Russia’s stock exchange suspended trade following steep falls in shares.

Asian shares had a mixed session. Stocks in Tokyo, Taipei, and Seoul all rose, although prices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Australia lost ground.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index ended up 1.2% at 11,749.79, having risen by as much as 2.3% earlier in the day. The index had hit a three-year low on Tuesday.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index ended down 3.6% at 17,637.19 points.

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