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Asia stocks, oil tumble as recovery comes to halt

[HONG KONG] Asian markets plunged on Tuesday as a two-day rally fuelled by stimulus talk came to an abrupt end with sharp losses in US and European markets and oil prices tanking again.

There had been a glimmer of hope that the worst start to a trading year on record may be brightening, with a surge across all assets spurred by a European Central Bank pledge Thursday to further ease monetary policy.

A report suggesting the Bank of Japan (BoJ) was considering similar moves fanned the optimism, with crude surging about 15 per cent over the two days and equities seeing blistering gains.

But analysts said the euphoria subsided as the realisation set in that the oil market is far too oversupplied for its weak demand, with China's economy continuing to struggle.

"Obviously investors are working through some potentially difficult issues in their minds about the state of the world economy," John Carey, a Boston-based fund manager at Pioneer Investment Management, told Bloomberg News.

"It might be a while before we emerge from this period of uncertainty." Leading the stock market sell-off was Tokyo's Nikkei, which shed 1.8 per cent by lunch, while Hong Kong was more than two percent lower and Shanghai sank 1.5 per cent. Seoul was 1.5 per cent lower while there were also hefty losses in Manila and Taipei.

Sydney was closed for a public holiday.

After ECB boss Mario Draghi's comments on stimulus last week, dealers will be closely following the rhetoric coming out of the US Federal Reserve when it ends its policy meeting Wednesday, which will be followed by the BoJ's Friday.

The Fed's gathering comes after its last session saw interest rates hiked for the first time in almost a decade, citing confidence that the US and global economies were picking up.

With markets from Asia to the Americas seeing trillions of dollars wiped off their valuations since then, experts are keen to find out policymakers' current views.

The BoJ faces more pressure to act as the Japanese economy struggles to get back on track, with the government's promised jump in inflation still a distant prospect and economic growth still paltry.

On crude markets US benchmark West Texas Intermediate was 1.9 per cent lower in early Asian trade - extending the near six per cent drop on Monday. Brent gave up 1.6 per cent after diving more than five percent the previous day.

"The decline is not very surprising because oil fundamentals still remain weak," said Daniel Ang, an analyst with Phillip Futures in Singapore.

"We're looking at strong oversupply and not so outstanding demand," he told AFP. "It is going to be very difficult to maintain higher prices." Analysts said the 15 per cent jump in prices on Thursday and Friday was driven by a combination of speculative moves and expectations that the looming blizzard hitting the US East Coast would drive up demand for heating oil sharply.