World stock markets fell sharply on Monday amid fresh anxiety over Europe's debt problems and a potential default by Greece that would wreak havoc on the global economy. Japan's benchmark Nikkei index hit a 28-month low.
Nervous investors unloaded equities amid concerns that Greece's problems would spread across Europe, and headed for safer havens like bonds and the Japanese yen. The euro hit a 10-year low against the yen on Monday.
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European shares plummeted in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 2.2 per cent at 5,100.41. Germany's DAX fell 3 per cent to 5,034.71 while France's CAC-40 plunged 4.5 per cent. Wall Street also was headed for a sullen start to the trading week, with Dow Jones industrial futures 1.5 per cent down at 10,789, while S&P 500 futures sank 1.5 per cent to 1,135.
"Greece basically has its back against the wall," said Tom Kaan, head of equity sales at Louis Capital Markets in Hong Kong. "Having said that, the concern I have is no longer Greece. Greece has to default." The bigger concern, he said, was whether other European countries like Italy would follow. "We'll see still more sludge on the downside before things get better," Kaan said.
Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average lost 2.3 per cent to 8,535.67 - its lowest closing level since April 2009.
Japan's powerhouse export sector was hit hard amid the strength of the Japanese currency, which makes products more expensive overseas. Honda Motor Co tumbled 3.8 per cent while Nissan Motor Corp. lost 3 per cent. Electronics giant Sharp Corp slid 5 per cent.
In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the benchmark Hang Seng index shed almost 4 per cent to 19,077.07 as worries about Europe's massive debt problem as well as a possible recession in the United States weighed on investors.
Hong Kong-listed shares of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world's biggest bank by market value, tumbled 4.9 per cent. China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd, a blue chip property developer, plummeted 8.5 per cent.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 plunged 3.7 per cent to 4,038.50. Losses were broad-based, with energy, materials and financial shares slumping. BHP Billiton Ltd, the world's largest mining company, fell 3.9 per cent. Rival Rio Tinto Ltd slid 4.3 per cent.
"After escalating concerns that a Greek default was inevitable caused a precipitous plunge across European and US markets on Friday, it is of little surprise to see our market getting hammered today," said Ben Potter, market strategist with IG Markets in Melbourne. "No one really has any idea where this whole situation may end up."
Benchmarks in New Zealand and Singapore also retreated. Financial markets in South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan were closed on Monday for national holidays.
Wall Street sustained heavy losses before the weekend following the surprise resignation Friday of a key European Central Bank official. The decision by Jergen Stark revealed deepening rifts over how to solve Europe's economic problems and heightened concerns that the continent's heavily indebted economies could collapse.
Debt-crippled Greece urgently needs to keep a program of cutbacks on track to secure the continued flow of international rescue loans - worth euro 219 billion ($302.6 billion) - protecting it from a catastrophic bankruptcy.
The Dow Jones Industrials closed down 2.7 per cent at 10,992.13. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note hit its lowest level in five decades.
President Barack Obama's jobs plan announced last week yielded little reaction in global markets.
Neither did recent talks among the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank governors, who ignored calls for a stronger unified response to Europe's debt crisis. They instead insisted that each country should tread its own path back to growth amid concerns of a global slowdown.
The weekend resignation of Japan's new trade minister after just eight days in office also unnerved the Tokyo market.
The exceptionally brief tenure of Yoshio Hachiro undermined confidence in Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda, who is tasked with reviving the economy and speeding up Japan's recovery from the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.
In currencies, the dollar was trading lower at 77 yen. The euro fell to $1.3541 and 104.32 yen.
Oil prices fell to near $85 a barrel Monday in Asia concern about Europe's debt crisis also battered commodities.
Benchmark oil for October delivery was down $1.87 to $85.37 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude fell $1.81 to finish at $87.24 on Friday.
In London, Brent crude for October delivery was down $1.66 at $111.14 on the ICE Futures exchange.