Asian shares slid on Friday as mounting concerns about the health of European banks further threatened a global economic outlook already under strain from falling oil prices and slowdown in China and other emerging markets.
The prices of yen, gold and liquid government bonds of favoured countries soared as investors rushed to traditional safe-haven assets.
“The markets are clearly starting to price in a sharp slowdown in the world economy and even a recession in the United States,” said Tsuyoshi Shimizu, chief strategist at Mizuho Asset Management.
“I do not expect a collapse of major financial crisis like the Lehman crisis but it will take some before market sentiment will improve,” he added.
Shares in Australia and South Korea fell about 0.5 per cent though MSCI’s dollar-denominated index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed due to the fall in the dollar.
Japan’s Nikkei share average fell more than 5 per cent to a fresh 16-month low on Friday, and was set for its biggest weekly drop since 2008 as investors rushed to dump risky assets after the dollar dived to a 15-month low against the yen. The Nikkei fell as much as 5.4 per cent to 14,865.77 in morning trade, a level unseen since October, 2014.
The strengthening yen touched 110.985 to the dollar on Thursday, rising almost 10 percent from its six-week low touched on Jan 29, when the Bank of Japan introduced negative interest rates.
The currency last stood at 112.38 yen.
Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso stepped up his verbal intervention on Friday, saying he would take appropriate action as needed, but the yen hardly reacted.
MSCI’s broadest gauge of stock markets fell 1.3 per cent on Thursday to 353.35, hitting its lowest level since June 2013. So far this year it is down 11.5 per cent.
It has fallen fell more than 20 per cent below its record high last May, confirming global stocks are in a bear market.
On Wall street, the US benchmark S&P 500 fell 1.23 per cent to 1,829.08, its lowest close in almost two years and down 10.5 per cent for the year.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares sank 3.7 per cent to its lowest level in 2-1/2 years.
Financial counters led the losses globally as disappointing earnings from Societe Generale added to the gloomy mood brought on by poor results from Deutsche Bank last month.
Banks in Europe ended 6.3 per cent lower, while the S&P financial index dropped 3 per cent.
Stress in the financial sector is stoking worries that funding conditions for some companies may tighten even as many of the world’s central banks pump in funds through unorthodox measures.
A funding drought could be a death knell for some energy firms that have struggled to make ends meet as oil trades at around a quarter of its value just a few years ago.
In a worrying sign that Europe’s debt problems could reappear, the Portuguese 10-year bond yield surged above four percent for the first time since 2014.
That is a clear departure from last year when investors, hunting for yield, were buying up debt from Portugal and other indebted countries.
In contrast, investors are now flocking to more liquid, and higher-rated bonds.
The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield fell to as low as 1.530 per cent, a low last seen in August 2012, which is just before the Fed started its third round of quantitative easing. It stood at 1.657 per cent in early Asian trade.
Gold surged to one-year high of $1,262.90 per ounce on Thursday, rising over four percent in its biggest daily percentage gain since September 2013. It last stood at $1,238.1.
US crude futures hit a fresh 13-year low of $26.05 per barrel on a rise in US stockpiles, though they managed to pare losses in volatile trade later in the day.
In early Asia, they traded at $27.33.