Stock prices plunged around the world Friday, as the turmoil in Russia left traders wondering when the wild sell-off might end.
Tokyo blue chips dove to a 12-year low, Hong Kong's key index fell 1.2 percent despite heavy buying by the government and stock prices were sharply lower on European exchanges early in the day."The drops are so large. It's not just fundamentals driving this, people are scared," said Robert Allen Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley (Japan) Ltd.
Thursday's weakness on Wall Street fueled the negative sentiment and had traders nervously waiting for the New York Stock Exchange to open again on Friday.
The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 357.36 points Thursday - or 4.2 percent - as the deepening crisis in Russia and doubts about Japan's handling of its recession jolted markets.
Prices were sharply lower by early afternoon on the London Stock Exchange, Europe's biggest market, although analysts pointed out that shares showed a big recovery from their lowest points in the morning.
London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100-share index was off by 108.1 points, or 2 percent, at 5,260.4 by noon, more than halving its early losses of 4.8 percent.
Frankfurt's Xetra DAX index fell 5 percent in early dealings but had recovered by early afternoon to show a loss of 1.4 percent on the day at 4,941.82 points.
"An awful lot of uncertainties are still out there," said George Hodgson, a European stock strategist at ABN AMRO Hoare Govett in London.
The panicky selling was set off by Russia's economic troubles. The Russian government struggled today to find a way out of its mess, while opposition leaders were clamoring for the removal of President Boris Yeltsin.
But Hodgson said investors may have been overlooking some positive factors: Global economic troubles could make lower interest rates more likely, and some share prices may have plunged to levels where they had become a bargain.
"It doesn't look particularly good, but I don't think we are too far away from the bottom in most European share markets," said Gareth Evans, European equities strategist at Nikko Europe.
Japanese Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa used his regularly scheduled news conference today to urge investors to remain calm. "The most important and basic thing is to not panic," he said.
But as trading began Friday, Tokyo stocks plunged again, and by the end of the day they had fallen to their lowest level in 12 years. Even the dollar - normally sought as a safety net in times of crisis - tumbled against the Japanese yen.
Japan's Nikkei stock index closed at 13,915.63 points, down 498.16 points, or 3.46 percent, from Thursday. It was the Nikkei's lowest level since March 1986.
Stock markets in Hong Kong and Singapore also continued their plunge with Singapore breaking through an important barrier for the first time in more than a decade.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index closed down 93.23 points, or 1.2 percent lower, at 7,829.74.
Trading volume reached an all-time record high of 79 billion Hong Kong dollars ($10.13 billion U.S.), and traders estimated that government buying accounted for more than 80 percent of that volume.
For two weeks, the Hong Kong government has been propping up the local stock and stock futures markets in an effort to punish speculators, whom officials say have been selling the Hong Kong dollar to drive up interest rates and weaken the stock market.
Market participants said the government may have used more than 10 percent of its reserves in the battle.