Asian stock markets pick up where plunging Wall Street left off

Investor sits in front of displays showing stock information at brokerage office in Beijing on October 11, 2018

THOMAS PETER / REUTERS

Last Updated Oct 11, 2018 3:08 AM EDT

SINGAPORE -- A stock market rout that started on Wall Street rolled through Asia on Thursday, driving China's benchmark to a four-year low and sending indexes in Japan, Korea and Australia plunging.

Japan's benchmark fell by an unusually wide margin of 3.9 percent and China's main index lost 5.6 percent. Markets across Southeast Asia recorded similar declines.

Investors are wary of possible further U.S. interest rate hikes. That will raise the cost of corporate borrowing and could drag on economic growth.

The U.S. Federal Reserve recently raised short-term interest rates for the third time this year, with one more expected before the year ends. Strong economic data and a positive outlook from Fed officials have led to a sell-off in U.S. Treasury bonds, particularly longer-term ones, sparking concerns about even higher interest rates.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said the Fed "is making a mistake" with its campaign of rate increases. "I think the Fed has gone crazy," he charged.

Stephen Innes of OANDA said that Trump's comments have unsettled traders and put pressure on the dollar. "Equity markets were pulverized today as investors remain in full out retreat and even the most pessimistic of equity bears are still in shock by the sheer magnitude of the move," Innes said.

"This meltdown isn't just a mild case of the sniffles, suggesting the latest sneeze from the U.S. equity market could morph into a global markets pandemic," he added.

Sentiment also has been dampened by the spreading U.S.-Chinese tariff fight over Beijing's technology policy. U.S. officials have accused China of meddling in its midterm elections and stealing trade secrets from its companies through spies.

The International Monetary Fund cut its outlook for global growth this week, citing interest rates and trade tensions.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 gave up 3.9 percent to 22,590.86 and the Shanghai Composite lost 5.6 percent to 2,573.11. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 3.8 percent to 25,192.26. The Kospi in South Korea fell 4 percent to 2,139.51. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 2.7 percent to 5,883.80. Stocks plunged in Taiwan and fell across Southeast Asia.

U.S. stocks slumped on Wednesday as concerns over rising interest rates and trade tensions caused a sell-off in technology and internet stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst loss in eight months, falling 3.1 percent to 25,598.74.

The S&P 500 index sank 3.3 percent to 2,785.68. The Nasdaq composite, which has a large contingent of technology stocks, was 4.1 percent lower at 7,422.05. It has fallen 7.5 percent in just five days. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks shed 2.9 percent, to 1,575.41.

Apple and Amazon, the two most valuable companies in the S&P 500, each had their worst day in 2½ years. Apple slipped by 4.6 percent while Amazon lost 6.2 percent.

Amazon has soared 50 percent this year, but its stock has fallen 14 percent from its all-time high in early September.

Francis Tan, an investment strategist at UOB Private Bank, believes that the markets will pick up in the U.S. session. "The valuation of U.S. stocks, especially tech stocks, is still pretty high and there could be some profit taking actions now," Tan explained.

The dollar eased to 112.24 yen from 112.27 yen late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1547 from $1.1523.

Oil futures fell. U.S. crude gave up 96 cents to $72.21 a barrel. The contract settled at $73.17 in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, dropped $1.18 to $81.91 a barrel.