Japan's Nikkei stock index nose-dived nearly 11 per cent on Tuesday as the earthquake-shattered country faced an unfolding nuclear crisis after a radiation leak was detected at a crippled power plant and residents were warned to stay indoors. Panic-selling sent shares lower across the globe.
In India, the Sensex fell 272 points to close at 18,167.64, after trading between 18,326.33 and 17,920.55 during the session. Banking and interest sensitive stocks were also hit as investors turned cautious ahead of the Reserve Bank of India's monetary policy meeting slated for March 17.
Stocks of realty, auto, metal and power sectors suffered the most on heavy unloading by investors as Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the danger of more leaks was rising at the crippled facility.
Areva T&D, a company specialist in power transmission and distribution system, dropped Rs 13.90 to Rs 230.95. Tata Power, the largest non-state electricity generator, sank the most in more than five weeks, losing Rs 36.30 at Rs 1,212.55.
Maruti Suzuki India, a unit of Japan's Suzuki Motor, also lost Rs 44.75 to Rs 1,214.50.
Bucking the general weakening trend, the most heaviest on the benchmark, Reliance Industries rose for the second day, adding Rs 18.65 to Rs 1,036.30 on reports the company paid higher advance taxes for this quarter.
In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average sank a staggering 10.6 percent - more than 1,000 points - to close at 8,605.15 after hitting a midday low of 8,227.63 points, more than 14 percent down. The broader Topix, meanwhile, lost 8 percent. Oil prices fell below $100 a barrel, and Asian shares tanked amid fears that Japan's nuclear emergency would worsen.
The chill was felt in Europe, where shares were sharply lower in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 lost 1.4 percent to 5,692.31, Germany's DAX was 2.6 percent down to 6,692.18 and France's CAC-40 sagged 1.8 percent to 3,803.27. Wall Street was bracing for a setback, with Dow Jones industrial futures down 1.4 per cent to 11,763 and S&P 500 futures down 1.6 percent to 1,270.30.
In Japan, the Nikkei's losses followed a 6 percent tumble on Monday - the first trading day since a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the northeastern coast, washing away towns and likely killing more than 10,000 people. Losses on Monday and Tuesday have sent the Nikkei spiraling downward 20 percent since the beginning of the year.
Other Asian markets plunged as large Japanese investors such as insurance companies and hedge funds pulled money from overseas, according to Tom Kaan, head of equity sales at Louis Capital Markets in Hong Kong.
Investors felt the biggest shock waves when Japan's prime minister announced that radioactive material had leaked from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima province and that more leaks were possible. People living within 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the complex were told to stay indoors.
"There is also fear of contamination. We've never had three nuclear power plants blowing up one after the other," Kaan said. "When you have a situation like that, everyone takes to the extreme of being conservative. How far will it affect the air that we breath and how far will the contamination go? Is it going to reach Korea or China? That's anyone's guess."
Kaan said the Middle East crisis was still far from over and had the potential to further damage markets, oil prices, and the global economic recovery - especially if the political turmoil and violence that has hit countries like Egypt and Libya spreads to oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
The stock sell-off in Tokyo hit nearly every business sector, with electric companies under intense pressure again. The Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the crippled nuclear plant, crashed 24.7 percent. Toshiba Corp., a maker of nuclear power plants, wilted 19.5 percent.
Other companies with nuclear power-related businesses faced a second day of free-falling losses. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries tumbled 10.9 percent, Kobe Steel Ltd. dived 12.1 percent, and Hitachi Ltd. shed 12.6 percent. Cosmo Oil, whose refinery caught fire after the quake, slid by 9 percent.
Car makers declined partly because quake-stricken northeastern Japan is a major center for auto production, complete with a myriad of parts suppliers and a network of roads and ports for efficient distribution.
Toyota Motor Corp. said it would suspend manufacturing at its domestic plants through Wednesday - a production loss of 40,000 cars. Other manufacturers like Sony Corp. and Honda Motor Co. were also forced to halt production. Damage to roads and distribution systems made it all but impossible to move products.
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, fell 7.4 percent. Honda lost 3.9 percent and Nissan Motor Corp. dropped 3.3 percent. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. lost 9.3 percent and truck-maker Isuzu Motors Ltd. plunged 9.2 percent.
High-tech suppliers like Elpida Memory Inc., the world's No. 3 maker of computer-memory chips and a leading manufacturer of DRAM, slid 9.7 percent.
Ports were closed, steel plants stopped producing, and the country was being urged to conserve power. With manufacturing all but paralyzed, exporters were also hammered - Panasonic Corp. was down 11.2 percent, Sharp Corp. slid 8.5 percent, and Sony Corp. lost 8.9 percent.
Fears about the safety of nuclear power weighed on the shares of companies involved in uranium mining. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd., one of the world's largest uranium producers, fell 14.3 percent in Sydney.
Even the rare stocks that did well Monday - industrial and materials companies, which gained due to expectations that they would benefit when Japan rebuilds - tumbled Tuesday.
Japanese construction company Kajima Corp. dropped 13.1 percent and Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd. skidded 23.5 percent. Analysts said that while the Japanese economy remained virtually shut down, companies in China and elsewhere could fill the void.
Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's Kospi lost 2.4 percent to 1,923.92 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.1 percent to 4,528.70. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dropped 2.9 percent to 22,678.25.
In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.4 percent to 2896.26, and the Shenzhen Composite Index of China's second, smaller exchange lost 1.3 percent to 1,293.61.
China's transportation sectors was hit particularly hard due to the uncertainly facing Chinese exports to Japan. Shares of China Cosco Holdings Co. Ltd., a shipping and transport company, fell 3.7 percent.
"This will impact transportation of China's exports to Japan," said Peng Yunliang, a Shanghai-based analyst. "Everything is down because the market is worried about nuclear radiation. The market is worried that it may impact other regions, such as the Asia-Pacific region."
On Wall Street Monday, concerns over the economic impact of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to a broad sell-off. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 51.24, or 0.4 percent, to 11,993.16.
The broader S&P index fell 7.89 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,296.39. Nine out of the 10 sectors that make up the Standard and Poor's 500 index lost ground. Utilities companies fell 1.4 percent, the most of any group.
The Nasdaq composite dipped 14.64, or 0.5 percent, to 2,700.97.
Benchmark crude for April delivery dropped $1.43 to $99.76 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile exchange. The contract added 3 cents to settle at $101.19 on Monday.
The dollar was worth 81.55 Japanese yen Tuesday, down from 81.88 yen late Friday. A major natural disaster like an earthquake can bolster the yen because investors expect the Japanese public and insurance companies to buy back their home currency in order to fund the country's reconstruction, increasing demand for the yen.
The euro fell to $1.3934 from $1.3995.
--With Agency inputs