Asian markets tumble on US fears, Japan finance minister calls for calm

TOKYO, Jan 18, 2008 (AFP) – Japanese share prices tumbled 2.81 percent by the end of the morning session Friday after a sharp fall on Wall Street on rising fears of a US recession, dealers said. They said that congressional testimony by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke failed to reassure markets that stimulus measures were on the way and instead fanned concern about the direction of the world’s largest economy.

A strengthening yen against the dollar also soured the mood. Japanese exporters benefit from a weak currency.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange’s benchmark Nikkei-225 index dropped 387.67 points to 13,395.78 at the end of the morning session.

If the level stays the same, the Tokyo market would be on course to close at the lowest point since October 2005. The Japanese market has lost ground in four of the last five sessions on worries about the US economy.

The broader Topix index of all first-section shares was down 33.62 points or 2.53 percent at 1,296.82, slipping below the symbolic 1,300-point level.

Declining shares outnumbered gainers 1,432 to 217, with 78 issues unchanged. Volume fell to 1.03 billion shares from 1.18 billion Thursday morning.

Yoshikiyo Shim