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Asia's Markets Follow Wall Street With Panic Selling


Investors in Asia sold shares in a panic, following the lead of Wall Street. Most stock markets saw some of the biggest price declines the October 1987 share crash. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, attention is now on the meeting of Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers in Washington to restore confidence to panicked markets.

Four major stock markets in Asia plunged more than seven percent Friday. Every share price index in the region was down sharply.

Vikas Kawatra, head of institutional research for Kim Eng Securities in Bangkok, says the speed of the market capitulation caught many off guard.

"We don't know how these fast-turning events are impacting which country and which bank and which insurance company - so it's all too scary at this stage and it would be quite naive to make any judgement on such sharp moves. It's fear and it's absolute fear," he said.

Kawatra says the rapid selling at least offers the hope the contagion may soon be over.

The bankruptcy of a real estate investment trust and insurer in Japan sent the Nikkei 225 stock average falling over nine percent. It has lost nearly 53 percent in a year.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed seven-point-two percent. Share prices on Philippine and Australian markets both closed over eight percent lower. In Seoul, the Kospi lost four percent and Mumbai's main BSE index sank seven percent.

Asia's sell-off followed the seven-percent loss on U.S. Dow Jones Industrial Average Thursday.

More than $6 trillion has been wiped off share markets this week as panic swept across the world.

Economists already are looking at the long-term fallout from the financial rout. Most expect widespread recession for much of the coming year.

Sompop Manarangsan, an economist from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, says countries in Asia, such as Thailand, where exports are key to economic growth, will be hit as the U.S. and European economies weaken.

"In the short term, the slump of the financial sector - particularly the stock market," said Sompop. "Longer term is the slowdown of exports - that [has] led to the slump of agricultural produce [prices]."

On Friday, key commodity prices continued to slide. Oil prices, $147 a barrel in July, traded at just over $82 - marking its biggest weekly decline since December 2004. Gold prices, however, were back up around $920 an ounce, the highest level in more than two months, as investors fled out of stocks and into precious metals.

The markets sank despite coordinated interest rate cuts this week by central banks and the pumping of billions dollars into money markets to encourage banks lend money, instead of hoarding cash.

Financial markets are looking to a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven major industrialized countries meeting in Washington Friday for fresh guidance on restoring confidence.

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