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Asian Stocks Tumble Amid SARS Fears

News of North Korea's admission that it has a nuclear bomb triggered heavy selling in South Korean stocks Friday. The KOSPI plunged to a three-week low on Friday, losing more than four percent for the day.

Kwang Seo-jeong, a strategist at LG Investment and Securities in Seoul, said that Pyongyang's admission could scare away investors. "I think it will increase the downside risk of the Korean market. Foreigners will not invest in the Korean market nowadays," he said.

The KOSPI settled at 566, down more than nine percent for the week.

The North Korean nuclear issue also dampened stock trading in neighboring Japan, where the Nikkei 225 Stock Average fell to 20-year lows. Weak earnings from consumer electronics giant Sony contributed to the drop. The index closed nearly two percent down Friday at 7,699.

SARS fears also wiped more than three percent off Taiwan's stock index, after a Taipei hospital was quarantined.

Taiwan's weighted index fell to 4,233, its lowest close in six months. Investors sold shares in companies manufacturing products in China, where SARS has infected 2,600 people. Taiwan's stock market was down nine percent for the week.

Investors in Hong Kong remained gloomy as businesses continue to suffer because of the SARS outbreak in the city. There are 1,500 confirmed cases in Hong Kong, the second highest number after Mainland China.

The Hang Seng index ended the week marginally lower at 8,409.