Japanese Market Sags in Disaster Aftermath

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In Asia Monday Japan's Nikkei 225 Index plunged 6.2% to 9,620. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gained 0.4% to 23,346 and China's Shanghai Composite Index inched up 0.1% to 2,938.

In the aftermath of what Prime Minister Naoto Kan describes as Japan's worst disaster since 1945, Japanese shares plummeted. Businesses operated at a fraction of the usual pace as Tokyoites who braved the hobbled transport system spent hours commuting to work, delivery systems were at a standstill leaving shop shelves bare and many factories have been damaged or shut down.

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As the disasters mount, nuclear contamination is high on the list. The highly profitable firms that build nuclear reactors -- not only in Japan but in countries around the world -- suffered huge losses as investors wonder if nuclear power will remain in vogue now that the possibility of disaster has become a reality in one of the world's most technologically sophisticated countries.

Nuclear Power Companies Hit Hard

Hitachi Ltd., which constructs and operates nuclear power systems, plunged 16.2%. Just last Wednesday the firm was celebrating receiving design approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for next-generation reactors slated to be built in Michigan, according to Reuters. Toshiba, which also builds nuclear facilities, nosedived 16.3%.

Other nuclear-related companies also sank with Japan Steel Works, a maker of nuclear power plant components, dropping 18.9% and Fuji Electric, which built Japan's first commercial power station in 1965 and still makes products for nuclear plants, fell 11.2%.

Japanese insurers were especially hard hit as the damage estimates will clearly continue to mount as less visible structural damage will add to the obvious destruction and loss of life. Dai-ichi Life Insurance tanked 18%, Tokio Marine dived 16% and MS&AD Insurance Group slid 11%.

Railway lines that suffered massive damage in Northern Japan where tracks and infrastructure were swept away by the tsunami are also reeling from a halt in service in areas further from the quake's epicenter. East Japan has reportedly canceled many of its rush hour trains, according to the Wall Street Journal's Japan Real Time blog, and most if its lines are closed with an average of 20% running -- in part thanks to the rolling black outs sapping power to the transport system. Commuters waiting for trains just west of Shibuya this morning were told that they would have to wait three hours for the next train into central Tokyo. East Japan Railway plunged 18.4% and West Japan Railway slid 3.1%.

Carmakers Careen Lower Along with Most Other Sectors

Honda reported damage to its Tochigi plant, where one employee is confirmed to have died when a wall collapsed in the company cafeteria. Honda and Toyota have both suspended nearly all operations for several days. Mazda fell 10%, Nissan plummeted 9.5%, Isuzu gave up 9.2%, Toyota was down 7.9% and Honda lost 6.5%.

Building firms are among those profiting from the disaster. TOA Corporation, a general contractor specializing in building and cleaning up harbor areas, rocketed up 48.5%. The company has expertise in building commercial and residential properties, erecting harbor facilities, dredging and reclamation. Taisei Corp. soared 19.9%, Kajima Corp. shot up 12.1% and Obayashi surged 10.6%.

In Hong Kong, steel producers ratcheted up on expectations that Japan will be in dire need of raw materials once it starts rebuilding. Angang Steel rose 4.8%, Citic Pacific climbed 4.8%, Maanshan Iron & Steel advanced 2.7%. Miners also advanced with Zhaojin Mining Industry rising 5.2% and Aluminum Corp. of China adding 0.7%.

Hong Kong-listed coal energy companies were also on the rise with China Shenhua rising 2.7% and China Coal adding 1.6%.

In China steel companies were in high demand with investors gambling that China will profit from selling to Japan as it recovers. Baoshan Iron & Steel gained 2.1% and Hebei Iron & Steel advanced 1.6%. But other miners fell, with Tongling Nonferrous Metals sinking 2.7% and Zijin Mining falling 0.2%.

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