China hits the world with financial bomb

Chinese stocks bounced back Wednesday after their biggest decline in a decade, but stock markets across Asia plunged amid investor jitters possible slowdowns in the Chinese and U.S. economies.

Shares in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines all tumbled more than 3 percent in morning trading following dismal overnight losses on Wall Street, which suffered its worst day since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

While several Asian markets erased some losses by afternoon, nervous investors were still wary of whether the slump marks the beginning of a downward spiral or just a one-time jolt to cool overheating markets.

"We don't need to worry about a big reduction from here, but this correction could continue for the next couple months," said Shinichi Ichikawa, an equity strategist with Credit Suisse First Boston in Tokyo.

In China, stocks recovered from their 8.8 percent plunge Tuesday - their biggest drop in a decade. The Shanghai Composite Index rebounded 3.9 percent to 2,881.07.

But investors in other Asian markets dumped shares Wednesday, with Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index falling 515.80 points, or 2.85 percent, to finish at 17,604.12.

Philippine stocks plunged 7.9 percent, their worst drop since 1997, at the height of the Asian financial crisis. Malaysian shares dropped 6 percent and Indonesian shares were down 5.2 percent. Australian stocks closed down 2.7 percent after falling as much as 3.5 percent.

The trouble began Tuesday - just one day after Chinese stocks hit a record - as investors unloaded shares to lock in profits amid speculation about a fresh round of austerity measures from Beijing to slow the nation's sizzling economy.

The Shanghai Composite tumbled 8.8 percent, its largest decline since Feb. 18, 1997. In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 416 points, or 3.3 percent, to 12,216.24. Main European indexes fell about 3 percent.

Investors were also spooked by comments Monday from former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who said a recession in the U.S. was "possible" later this year.

Equity analysts said the market's volatility could trigger more selloffs.

"A lot of that exuberance about just buying anything at all cost just starts to evaporate if the market has big falls like this," said David Halliday, associate director at Macquarie Equities. "I think the important thing to note is that this hasn't been triggered by an economic, financial or political crisis."

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki echoed that sentiment, trying to quell concerns about the Tokyo market by stressing that overall fundamentals in Japan were still strong.

"On a broad perspective the corporate sector continues to perform well," Shiozaki said. "A long-term economic recovery is continuing."

But many market players said shares had gained too much, too fast.

Tokyo's Topix, which includes all shares on the exchange's first section, has climbed 18 percent in the last three months, only to lose 3.23 percent Wednesday. Vietnam's booming stock market, up more than 50 percent this year, fell 2.5 percent.

On Wednesday, Australian Treasurer Peter Costello predicted the plunge in China's share market would trigger "volatility on equity markets for some time."

But his overall assessment of China's economy was positive, telling reporters the Asian giant would continue to grow, albeit "in fits and starts."

Some regional brokers said they saw an element of panic selling among retail investors but that more experienced investors were sitting it out. Other market players were on the look out for bargain hunters to emerge, the AP says.

"If your target is gains by the end of 2007, this is a good chance to buy," said Credit Suisse's Ichikawa. "But if it's the end of March, I can't say that."

Australian brokers said they were confident the fall was a correction, not the start of a bear market.

"I'd put a number of say 3-5 percent on it today," said AMP chief economist Shane Oliver, adding that the drops could extend to 10 percent in the next few weeks. "I don't see it having major economic implications and therefore I'm pretty confident it's just a correction."

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