Japan stocks post biggest drop in 3 years as global growth fears hit banks

An employee of a foreign exchange trading company working in front of monitors displaying the Japanese yen's exchange rate against the US dollar in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb 9, 2016.
An employee of a foreign exchange trading company working in front of monitors displaying the Japanese yen's exchange rate against the US dollar in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb 9, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's Nikkei share average posted its biggest daily drop in nearly three years on Tuesday(Feb 9), with banks taking the brunt of the sell-off, while a stronger yen dragged down stocks across the board.

The Nikkei ended 5.4 per cent lower at 16,085.44 points, its lowest closing level since Jan 21 and its heftiest percentage drop since mid-2013.

If it falls below 16,017.26, it will be the lowest since October 2014.

European banks led a global sell-off in financial stocks overnight as signs of stress in the sector mounted, triggering sharp selling in the beaten-down Japanese banking sector.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group sank 8.7 per cent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group dropped 9.0 per cent. Japanese banks have been under pressure with the Bank of Japan's negative interest rate policy introduced last month.

"The market is starting to digest that (BOJ's announcement) further and starting to relook at the potential implications not just for financials but for the broader economy, and the fact that the BOJ is running out of policy measures is one thing," said Kei Okamura, assistant investment manager at Aberdeen Investment Management.

The Nikkei has slumped 15 per cent so far in 2016, hit by worries about a slowdown in China's growth and sliding crude oil prices. The BOJ's policy action and dismal Japanese corporate earnings have stoked fears among investors. "I think this sort of succession of events is feeding through to pessimism in the market," Mr Okamura said.

The broader Topix stumbled 5.5 per cent to 1,304.33, after hitting as low as 1,299.53, the lowest level since October, 2014. All of its 33 subsectors were in negative territory.

Trading was active, with 3.17 billion shares changing hands, compared to an daily average of 2.3 billion shares. Daily turnover was 3.1 trillion yen, compared to an average of 2.5 trillion yen.

On Tuesday, the Nikkei volatility index hit a six-month high, which triggered the Tokyo Stock Exchange's circuit breaker to suspend trading of the Nikkei volatility index futures 0#JNV: .

A slide in US stocks on Monday also spooked the market as uncertainty over whether the Federal Reserve would raise rates this year triggered selling in the dollar.

"Investors are increasingly worried about the US economy, and they are worried that a strong yen will eat into Japanese exporters' earnings," said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. "Concerns about Japan Inc's earnings will likely persist this year."

During Asian trade, the US dollar briefly crashed through the 115-yen level to its lowest since November 2014.

Exporters were hammered, with Toyota Motor falling 6.1 per cent, Honda Motor diving 6.7 per cent and Nissan Motor tumbling 7.2 per cent.