World markets slump after Chinese stock plunge triggers 2nd daylong trading halt

HONG KONG -- Chinese stocks nosedived Thursday, triggering their second daylong trading halt this week and sending share markets, Asian currencies and oil prices lower as investor jitters rippled across the globe.

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The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 7.3 per cent to 3,115.89 before "circuit breakers" suspended trading for the day. The Shenzhen Composite Index for China's second smaller stock exchange slumped 8.3 per cent to 1,955.88.

Chinese government measures introduced last year to prop up share prices after a meltdown in June are being gradually withdrawn, leading to volatile trading. Investors are also unnerved that Beijing has allowed the yuan to weaken, a possible sign the No. 2 economy is in worse shape than thought.

Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne, Australia said the sell-off this week only underlines that the Chinese government's intervention last year to support the market had delayed the inevitable slump.

"Many people are asking how far Chinese equities could fall," he said in a market commentary.

"The great concern for global markets is that the dramatic pace of the currency devaluation seems to indicate a far greater weakness in the Chinese economy than is easily perceivable in its publicly released statistics," Nicholson said.

Chinese stock trading was also suspended on Monday after the market plunged.

The tempest in China's markets has been felt around the world. Foreign investors have little direct involvement in Chinese financial markets, but the size of China's economy means the wild gyrations are a source of concern internationally.

The latest slump comes after China's government guided the yuan lower over several days, an indication authorities are prepared to weaken the tightly controlled currency to boost flagging exports. The yuan rate was set Thursday morning at 6.5646 to the U.S. dollar, the weakest in nearly five years, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing data from the China Foreign Exchange Trading System.

In early European trading, France's CAC 40 was down 2.5 per cent at 4,367.97 and Germany's DAX slid 3.1 per cent to 9,899.50. Britain's FTSE 100 cratered 2.3 per cent to 5,933.74. Futures augured sharp losses on Wall Street. Dow and S&P 500 futures were each down 2 per cent.

The Shanghai benchmark has dropped 12 per cent so far this year, which is barely a week old. Thursday's market plunge may have been exacerbated by investors rushing to sell before they were locked out by the automatic trading suspension, some analysts said.

The circuit breakers trip when there are big swings in the CSI 300 index. Trading halted temporarily barely 14 minutes into the morning session when stocks plunged 5 per cent. When trading resumed 15 minutes later, stocks plunged further, falling more than the 7 per cent limit that triggers a daylong trading freeze.

"There was some apparent panic selling with investors trying to reduce exposure before the mandatory triggers entered into effect," said Gerry Alfonso, trading head at Shenwan Hongyuan Securities in Beijing.

"Sentiment seems to be rather fragile at the moment as the soft macroeconomic environment together with the fear of not being able to sell during a market correction causing some anxiety among investors," he wrote in a note to clients.

Nicholson said, "It's difficult to see the circuit-breakers surviving long in their current form, given they only seem to be further contributing to the volatility in the Chinese market."

Among other Asian stock markets, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index fell 2.3 per cent to 17,767.34 and South Korea's Kospi lost 1.1 per cent to 1,904.33.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 3.1 per cent to 20,333.34 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 retreated 2.2 per cent to 5,010.30.

Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia also fell.

Oil prices touched their lowest in more than a decade. Benchmark U.S. crude futures fell $1.43, or 4.2 per cent, to $32,54 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract on Thursday dropped $2, or 5.6 per cent, to settle at $33.97 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell $1.24, or 3.7 per cent, to $32.99 a barrel in London.

In currency markets, the dollar fell to 117.66 yen from 118.67 yen in the previous day's trading as investors bought the Japanese currency as a safe haven. Some other Asian currencies retreated in concert with the yuan. The euro rose to $1.0795 from $1.0778.


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