Jittery Asian Stock Markets Plunge : Gulf crisis: Nikkei average falls more than 4%. Hong Kong index down 2.8%.

From Reuters

Asian stock markets nose-dived today as nervous traders and investors sold on continued tension and uncertainty in the Middle East.

Tokyo's Nikkei average of 225 leading shares fell 1,086 points--more than 4%--to end the day at a 1990 low of 25,210.91.

It could have been worse. In mid-afternoon the Nikkei had plunged through the 25,000 level for the first time in 2 1/2 years, only to recover somewhat in late trading.

Brokers said climbing domestic interest rates and futures-related selling against a backdrop of the worsening Persian Gulf crisis did the damage in Tokyo.

Tokyo share prices have spiraled downward since Iraq invaded Kuwait, and brokers said today that further setbacks are likely in the weeks to come.

Since the Nikkei reached its peak of 38,915.87 on Dec. 27, 1989, the index has lost more than 35% of its value.

Masaharu Sakudo, managing director at Tachibana Securities, noted that in light of the Nikkei's adjustment to past crises, it may be nearing the bottom. After the first oil crisis, the Nikkei fell 37.4%.

Brokers estimate that Tokyo stocks have lost twice the value shed by their counterparts in London and New York since the invasion.

"Brokerages are going to be hurt by this," said Masahiko Tsuyuzaki, chief trader at Tachibana Securities. "We are now beginning to hear talk of staff cutbacks and mergers and acquisitions in the industry."

The news from Japan, allied with pessimism over chances of avoiding war in the Persian Gulf, spread dismay, sometimes near-panic, in other regional markets.

In Hong Kong, the blue-chip Hang Seng index fell 85.07 points, or 2.8%, to close at 2,954.93.

Shares plunged in Taiwan, where the weighted index fell 4% to a two-year low of 3,506.80. Volume was modest, with shares failing to recover early losses despite late afternoon institutional buying.

Hectic selling in Singapore sent the Straits Times industrial index into a 85.07-point nose-dive. The index was 6.8% lower at 1,163.83 at midday.

New Zealand shares ended at their lowest levels in almost five years, again triggered by the drop in the Nikkei and gulf worries. The unofficial Barclays Index Estimate shed 19.35 to end at 1,624.80.

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