Stocks plunge, oil and gold soars, in market turmoil

TOKYO, March 17, 2008 (AFP) – World markets saw another day of turmoil and investor jitters Monday as Asian shares plunged, oil hit a fresh high and the dollar fell to a new bottom after the near-collapse of US bank Bear Stearns.

Dealers said an emergency cut by the US Federal Reserve to its discount rate and a weekend deal for JPMorgan Chase to buy Bear Stearns at a fire-sale price had added to the sense of crisis in financial markets.

Oil prices soared to fresh highs while gold prices jumped as investors fled to safe-havens amid the financial market storm.

Tokyo share prices dropped 4.2 percent by lunch with the headline Nikkei index sliding below 12,000 points for the first time since August 2005.

Hong Kong opened 4.1 percent lower, Shanghai declined 2.5 percent, Seoul gave up 2.0 percent, Sydney declined 3.1 percent and Singapore fell 2.8 percent.

“Most regional markets are lower today due to the meltdown in the US,” said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities in Hong Kong. “The financial crisis is deepening.”

The rout came as the dollar slumped to a fresh record low against the euro and a 12-year trough against the yen, as traders braced for a hefty cut to the Fed’s main federal fu