Fear grips markets

FEAR, confusion and a touch of panic gripped investors yesterday to send already shaky Asian stock markets crashing for the third straight day.

What spooked market sentiment this time was a rise in American jobless claims, which heightened worries over economic growth in Asia's most important export market.

Those concerns fed into the already bubbling witch's brew of commodity price falls, volatile currency markets and fears of more financial market chaos. Even falling oil prices are adding to the sense of dread.

'It is an ugly bear market where few strategies are working. When oil was rising, it was bad for Asian markets. Now oil is falling, apparently that is a bad thing too for Asian markets,' said Merrill Lynch strategist Mark Matthews.

The horror week has been particularly painful here, with the Straits Times Index losing 184.73 points in the past three days.

Friday's plunge of 51.84 points, or 1.97 per cent, was driven by big falls in property and banks and left the market at 2,574.21. That means investors are back to where they were in October 2006.

China was the worst hit with the Shanghai Composite Index diving 3.29 per cent, with oil giants like PetroChina and Bank of China leading the losers.


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