Global stock markets tumbled today amid fears the US may be heading back into recession and Europe's debt crisis is worsening. The sell-off follows the biggest one-day points decline on Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis.
Oil extended sharp losses to fall below $84 a barrel amid expectations a slowing global economy will undermine demand for crude.
In Europe, major markets fell, adding to losses Thursday. London's FTSE 100 declined 3.5 per cent to 5,393.14 and Germany's DAX shed 3.8 per cent to 6,172.00. France's CAC-40 lost 2.5 per cent to 3,238.80.
Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average slid 3.7 per cent to 9,299.88 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng dived 4.6 per cent to 20,877.74. China's Shanghai Composite Index lost 2.2 pe rcent to 2,626.42.
"Losses today have been indiscriminate," said IG Markets strategist Ben Potter in a report. "The big question on everyone's mind is what will happen across European and US markets tonight and will there be any form of emergency policy response?"
In London the FTSE dropped sharply after Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC reported a second-quarter loss Friday after it wrote down the value of its Greek bond holdings by £733 million ($841.5m).
The bank said it posted a net loss of £897m, compared with a profit of £257m in the same period last year. It also set aside a previously announced £850m charge for customers who were missold payment protection insurance on mortgages and other loans.
RBS, which is 83 per cent owned by the British taxpayer, has hundreds of millions of pounds of exposure to Greek debt, making it vulnerable to the country's ongoing crisis. Many of those losses are tied to its acquisition of Dutch bank ABN Amro.
The Dow closed Thursday down 512.76 points, at 11,383.68. It was the steepest point decline since December 1, 2008.
Thursday's decline was the ninth-worst by points for the Dow. In percentage terms, the decline of 4.3 per cent does not rank among the worst. On Black Monday in 1987, for example, the Dow fell 22 per cent.
Investors fretted over the US economic recovery ahead of Friday's release of crucial jobs figures for July, which often set the tone in markets for a week or two.
Many were also rattled by the lack of agreement in Europe about debt and how to stabilize the euro, said Tom Kaan of Louis Capital Markets in Hong Kong. He said they were watching to see if the U.S. Federal Reserve launches a new stimulus effort.
"It's a general fear that is clouding the markets at the moment," Mr Kaan said.
Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's Kospi sank 3.7 percent to 1,943.75 and Taiwan's benchmark skidded 5.6 percent to 7,853.13. Australia's benchmark dropped 4 percent to 4,105.40 and India's Sensex shed 2.8 percent to 17,196.06.
In China, state-owned oil producer CNOOC Ltd. plunged 7.7 per cent. China Construction Bank Ltd., one of the country's four major state-owned banks, lost 2 per cent and Ping An Insurance Ltd. declined 3.9 per cent.
Investors, already fidgety after protracted political bargaining to raise the US debt limit and worries that Italy and Spain are getting deeply embroiled in Europe's debt crisis, searched for assets considered safer such as gold.
"Stocks will continue to dive, especially in Euroland, where profits are disappointing analysts' estimates," said Carl B. Weinberg of High Frequency Economics in a report.
In currency markets, the dollar edged down to 78.48 yen from late Thursday's 79.02 and the euro weakened gained to $1.4153 from $1.4130.
On Thursday, Japan's government intervened in markets to weaken the yen against the dollar to support exporters. Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said authorities acted to protect the economic recovery following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The dollar had fallen as low as 76.29 yen on Monday. It hit a record post-World War II low of 76.25 yen in the days following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The intervention was coupled with monetary policy easing by the central bank's board.
Japan's moves came only a day after the Swiss National Bank intervened to slow a rise in the Swiss franc, another currency perceived as a save-haven at a time investors are fleeing risky assets such as shaky European government bonds.
Benchmark oil for September delivery was down $2.81 to $83.82 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude tumbled $5.30 to settle at $86.63 on Thursday.
In London, Brent crude was off $1.26 at $105.99 barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Associated Press† - Joe McDonald