Global shares tumbled for a sixth day on Thursday and oil prices slid to levels not seen since the early 2000s, after China guided the yuan lower and Shanghai shares tumbled by 7 percent, igniting fears of competitive devaluations across Asia.
Less than half an hour after the market opened, Chinese stock trading was suspended for a second time this week.
Brent crude prices skidded over 5 percent to an almost-12-year-low of $32.16 LCOc1, with worries over weaker demand from China adding to a persistent drag on prices caused by oversupply and near-record output levels.
MCCI's 46-country All World index .WORLD fell 1 percent to hit a three-month low, the sixth straight day of losses. The benchmark emerging stock index .MSCIEF slid 2.5 percent to a 6 1/2-year low as investors dumped risky assets.
"It's looking pretty ugly," said hedge fund manager and chief investment officer Andreas Clenow at ACIES Asset Management in Zurich. "We've been scaling down equity positions. It's time to take a step back to re-evaluate the situation."
Images from China's stock market in January:
The People's Bank of China (PBOC) set the yuan midpoint rate CNY=SAEC at 6.5646 per dollar, 0.5 percent weaker than the previous day's fix. That was the biggest decline between daily fixings since August and the eighth day in row the PBOC had set a lower guidance rate.
Spot yuan CNY=CFXS fell to 6.5956 to the dollar, its weakest since February 2011. Offshore yuan rates hit a record low of 6.7600 to the dollar CNH=, before erasing its losses after suspected intervention by authorities.
Other regional currencies followed the yuan down as markets began to worry about competitive currency devaluations from trading partners. Singapore's dollar SGD= hit a six-year low, the South Korean won KRW= touched a four-month low, and the Malaysian ringgit MYR= slumped to a three-month trough.
Investors fear China's economy is even weaker than had been imagined, with Beijing, in a bid to help exporters, allowing the yuan's depreciation to accelerate.
"The lower yuan fixing probably signifies greater risks to the Chinese economy than we know of, leading to risk-off trades," said Jeremy Stretch, head of currency strategy at CIBC World Markets.
FLIGHT TO SAFETY
North Korea's announcement on Wednesday that it had successfully conducted a test of a hydrogen nuclear device added to a growing list of geopolitical worries for investors.
"Geopolitical tensions stemming from Saudi-Iran tensions and North Korea's nuclear test had already heightened the 'risk off' mood," said Takashi Hiroki, chief strategist at Monex Securities in Tokyo. "Resurfacing China risk was the extra psychological blow to the markets that led to the selloff in equities."
As investors fled to safety, the yen rose about 1 percent to 117.615 per dollar JPY=, its strongest in 4 1/2 years [FRX/].
Top-rated German bonds, which are also considered a safe haven, benefited, too. Ten-year yields dropped below 0.50 percent for the first time in over a month.
Earlier, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS dropped 2 percent to its lowest since late September. Japan's Nikkei .N225 shed 2.2 percent.
New rules Chinese authorities introduced this week that restrict selling by large shareholders did not go down well with investors and provided little tonic to jittery markets.
"This is crazy. Chinese regulators set off on this path in July and they cannot get out of it. They have ruined whatever hope investors still had in the market," said Alberto Forchielli, founder of Mandarin Capital Partners in Hong Kong.
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