Stocks in Asia followed Wall Street into retreat Wednesday, as the staggering toll exacted by Japan’s worst-ever earthquake came into sharper focus and uncertainties grew about the outcome of Western military action against Libya.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 slid 1.6 percent in early trading to 9,455.06 after a strong day of gains. A stark government announcement that damages from the catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami could reach $300 billion reminded investors of the mammoth reparation job the world’s No. 3 economy faces.
Three of the country’s biggest brands - Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Sony Corp. - put off a return to normal production due to shortages of parts and raw materials because of earthquake damage to factories in affected areas.
Toyota and Honda said they would extend a shutdown of auto production in Japan that already is in its second week, while Sony said it was suspending some manufacturing of popular consumer electronics such as digital cameras and TVs. The production slowdowns hit their stock prices- Toyota drooped 1.5 percent; Honda was down 1.4 percent, and Sony lost 0.8 percent.
Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi index was down 0.2 percent to 2,010.69 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dropped 0.2 percent to 22,806.30.
Meanwhile, investors had a separate worry- the crisis in Libya and the real possibility that Moammar Qadhafi could stave off military action by Western powers intended to keep Qadhafi from overwhelming rebel forces trying to end his four-decade rule.
On Wall Street, stocks edged lower on Tuesday, ending a three-day rally that had lifted the Dow Jones industrial average above 12,000 for the first time since an earthquake hit Japan more than a week ago.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 17.90 points to close at 12,018.63. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 4.61, or 0.4 percent, to 1,293.77. The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.22, or 0.3 percent, to 2,683.87
In currencies, the euro dropped to $1.4169 from $1.4207 late Tuesday in New York. The yen was unchanged against the greenback at 80.90.