News / Economy

Japan Quake Weighs on Financial Markets

Oil refinery facility is on fire in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture (near Tokyo) after strong earthquakes hit Japan, March 11, 2011
Oil refinery facility is on fire in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture (near Tokyo) after strong earthquakes hit Japan, March 11, 2011

The worst quake to strike Japan in 140 years sent shock waves through financial markets around the world. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck toward the end of the Asian trading session, sending Japan's Nikkei index sharply lower, which caused a sell-off in global stock markets. Economists are still trying to gauge the financial damage from the massive quake.

Japan’s biggest earthquake on record struck just before the Tokyo Stock market closed, sending the Nikkei to a five week low. European markets saw sharp declines, with insurance companies hit the hardest on fears of massive property damage claims.

But given the magnitude of the quake, equity analyst Ben Collett says the market reaction could have been worse. "The response - the way the market's responding at the minute is relatively tepid given the size of the earthquake and the headline number. But that being the case the market isn't collapsing," he said.

In the U.S., a strong report on retail sales was overshadowed by the news from overseas, as stocks bounced back and forth between gains and losses.

Energy companies saw gains, but oil prices were sharply lower - falling below $100 a barrel for the first time this month on expectations of lower demand from Japan.

New York market analyst Peter Costa told VOA the decline is likely to be temporary. "Short term, yeah, there's going to be a problem with supply in Japan. But, I think it will be corrected fairly quickly. And I think the market will react to that within the next couple of days. You know, they'll see the damage. Right now it's just an initial response but after, after you see what the real damage is, then we'll know what the crude market will look like, based on the fact that the third largest consumer of oil right now is not consuming any oil," he said.

But even as investors try to gauge the economic fallout, early indications suggest quake damage to Japan's infrastructure will be extensive.

Market economist Tom Vosa believes the focus will shift quickly toward rebuilding. "What we're going to start seeing now is a huge amount of investment in Japan. Remember the damage after Kobe, estimated at around $100 billion. This is the largest earthquake Japan has had for 140 years. Difficult to see it being double, if not treble that," he said.

Economists say the Japan quake and the ensuing tsunami are likely to have longer term ripple effects around the world, disrupting auto imports and technology products from Japan.

Experts who spoke with VOA say the massive quake struck Japan at the worst time - just as the world's third largest economy was starting to show signs of recovery.

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