Japanese shares tumbled to one-month lows on Thursday as disappointing global manufacturing activity surveys stoked concerns over global growth, while the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States fed into a risk-averse mood.
Japan's Nikkei share average fell 2.6 per cent to 15,661.99, while the broader Topix fell 2.9 per cent to 1,280.15 - its biggest percentage decline since mid-March.
Investors sold shares of exporters that had benefited from the fall in the yen in recent weeks. The yen hit a six-year low of 110.09 yen to the dollar on Wednesday but bounced back to around 108.97 yen on Thursday, helped by safe-haven bids as concerns about the global economy resurfaced.
Surveys on Wednesday showed German factory activity shrank for the first time in 15 months, China's manufacturing sector barely grew, and the United States slowed more than expected.
"The sentiment was already weak yesterday after exporters didn't perform well even after the yen fell to 110 to the dollar. The market will be in for a correction for now," said a trader at a Japanese brokerage firm.
Honda Motor fell 4.2 percent, Toyota Motor Co dropped 3.5 percent and Suzuki Motor shed 5.7 percent. The disappointing global manufacturing figures came as investors in Japan continued to grapple with the domestic economy's struggles to recover from a slump triggered by April's sales tax hike.
Global markets are also bracing for an end to the U.S. Federal Reserve's third round of quantitative easing this month. "If you look back, U.S. stocks peaked one month before the end of QE2. A rally driven by liquidity is coming to an end worldwide," said Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
The first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States only served to knock sentiment further, sending the U.S. S&P 500 stock index skidding 1.3 percent to a seven-week low of 1,946.16. The Ebola news pressured U.S. airline shares and hit their peers in Tokyo, with the Tokyo Stock Exchange's air transport sub index falling 4.6 percent, its largest fall in more than two years.
Japan Airlines fell 4.6 percent and ANA Holdings dropped 4.8 percent. Trading houses extended their losses as commodity prices fell and some of them reported huge losses on energy investments. Marubeni fell 3.4 percent after it was revealed that it is preparing to sell its costly stake in a Canada coal mine for what the potential buyer says could be as little as $1 - a day after a Tokyo rival said it would book losses in coal and iron ore investments. The new JPX-Nikkei Index 400 dropped 2.8 percent.
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