The US stock market rout spread into Asia on Thursday.
Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei index plunged 3.7%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell nearly 2.5% before recovering to close down 1%. The latest hit to the region's battered stocks was prompted by sharp losses Wednesday on Wall Street that wiped out top US indexes' entire gains for 2018. The Nasdaq slumped more than 4%.
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The sell-off in US markets is "beckoning Asia investors to make a similar rush for the doors," said Jingyi Pan, a Singapore-based market strategist at broker IG Group.
Top Asian markets have been hammered this year by rising US interest rates and fears over slowing global economic growth, particularly in China. Stocks in Shanghai and Hong Kong have tumbled into bear market territory as the Chinese economy has lost momentum and faced a growing threat from the trade war with the United States.
A broad measure of stocks across the region, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index, has now slipped into a bear market, which means a 20% decline from its January peak.
Major European markets also opened lower Thursday, but the declines were less severe than in Asia. The main indexes in Britain and Germany were down less than 1% in morning trading.
As in the United States, tech stocks were among the big losers in Asia. Chinese social media and gaming company Tencent (TCEHY) slid 2.5%. Tech companies are among the markets' most richly valued shares, which means they often bear the brunt of losses.
But analysts are struggling to pinpoint a clear reason for this sell-off.
"What makes the latest volatility more troubling is that it's been difficult to identify one specific cause," said Kerry Craig, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. "There are many symptoms but no one can diagnose the illness."
Investors are increasingly concerned that earnings and economic growth have peaked as tighter monetary conditions and the impact of tariffs begin to weigh on profits, according to Craig.
Economic data out of Asia failed to provide any encouragement. South Korea's benchmark index closed down 1.6% after the country's third-quarter economic growth missed analysts' forecasts.
China is one of the world's worst performing stock markets this year. The main Shanghai index is down more than 28% since late January, hurt by fears about the economy and trade tensions.
The index rebounded nearly 7% over the course of trading on Friday and Monday following a rare concerted intervention by senior officials to talk up the country's struggling economy and markets. It ended flat Thursday after recovering from steep losses earlier in the day.
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