Asian Markets Plunge on 8.8 Earthquake in Japan

Asian markets plunged Friday. In Japan the Nikkei 225 Index spiraled down 1.7% to 10,254 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng Index dropped 1.6% to 23,250. China's Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.8% to close at 2,934.

Japan suffered a massive 8.8 earthquake today at 2:46 pm. It's the strongest earthquake to occur in the past century and the sixth largest recorded since record keeping began in 1900, Dr. Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey told the BBC.

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The quake was followed by a tsunami packing 33-foot-high waves that devastated Japan's coast just north of Tokyo. Central Tokyo has come to a standstill and workers are scrambling to find alternate routes home as train lines have ground to a halt and taxis are incredibly scarce. Most Tokyo skyscrapers are specially designed to withstand earthquakes, and could be the safest places to be for Japanese workers who have been conditioned since childhood to expect sudden earthquakes.

In a televised address, Prime minister Naoto Kan issued a statement confirming that the four nuclear power plants closest to the epicenter have been shut down and that no radiation has been released from any of the country's 55 operating nuclear plants. However, BBC television reports that a fire has broken out in a plant in northern Japan and authorities are struggling to amass enough electricity to pump water into the facility to cool it down. It has been classified as a nuclear emergency -- the first such announcement since 2000.

Banks and Insurance Companies Tumble

Shares in Japanese banks and financials tumbled, as traders continued working through the quake. Mitsui & Co. plunged 3.7%, Mitsubishi UFJ sank 2.5% and Mizuho Financial lost 1.2%.

Insurance companies were hard hit as the damage they'll be paying for was wrought in real-time. MS&AD Insurance dived 3.2% and Tokio Marine sank 2.6%.

Meanwhile, Japanese building firms surged as traders scooped up shares in the firms that will surely be overwhelmed with work as the country recovers from disaster. Kajima Corp. rocketed up 11.1%, Taisei surged 1.6% and general contractor Shimizu Corporation gained 1.2% and Obayashi advanced 0.9%, Cement producer Sumitomo Osaka rose 1%.

Within minutes of the shocks, shares in building firms based in Northern Japan spiked. Building firm Fukuda rallied 29.9% and Ueki Corp. catapulted up 23.1%.

In Hong Kong shares also plunged as fears spread that the Japanese earthquake could result in tsunami waves in locations as close as Taipei and as far as Los Angeles. Compounded by a gloomy U.S. jobs report, shares in retail firms supplying major U.S. stores closed lower. Li & Fung, which provides clothes and toys to Walmart as well as Abercrombie and Target, dived 2.6%. Esprit lost 2.2% and sports shoe manufacturer Yue Yuen dipped 0.2%. China Resources, which has businesses ranging from retail to food and property, plunged 3.9%.

Hong Kong property developers suffered from the uncertainty with Hang Lung nosediving 2.7%, Henderson Land sliding 2.4%, Cheung Kong slipping 1.4%, Sino Land down 1.1% and New World losing 0.6%. China Overseas Land & Investment tumbled 3%.

Chinese property firms were also among the hardest hit after the Ministry of Land and Resources told local governments to curb the increase in land prices, including capping prices paid for land sold at auction, reports Bloomberg. Gemdale slumped 2.2%, China Vanke sank 2% and Poly Real Estate lost 1.7%.
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