Japan manufacturers tumble
Shares in Japanese manufacturers tumbled in the aftermath of Friday's devastating earthquake, as companies struggled to gather information from the stricken area and investors worried production could be suspended for an extended period.
The tremor and tsunami killed thousands and knocked out transport and communication links in parts of northern Japan, where many are still without water and electricity.
Auto and electronics makers were among the worst hit when trading resumed on Monday, with the sustained strength of the yen helping to push down exporters' shares.
Toyota Motor Co said it would suspend production at all its car plants until at least March 16, reducing output by at least 40,000 vehicles. Shares in the company were down almost 8 percent.
“It will take quite some time until investors' confidence in Japanese manufacturers returns. When we look back at the Kobe earthquake, it took about a week to get an overall picture of the magnitude of the damage,” said Toshihiko Matsuno, senior strategist at SMBC Friend Securities, referring to the 1995 earthquake that killed more than 6,400 people.
Concerns about rolling power blackouts that will affect Tokyo and surrounding areas over the next few weeks added to the existing challenge of inspecting and repairing north Japan plants amid further aftershocks.
Although northern Japan is relatively sparsely populated and less of an industrial centre than central and western areas, it is an important focus for power generation.
“At this point, it's absolutely unclear how the power cut will affect manufacturers' production and businesses,” Matsuno said.
Many firms are still trying to compile information about the condition of their plants and said they were not sure how the blackouts would affect them.
“We have no idea when we can resume operations at our suspended plants,” said a spokesman for Canon Inc . “We can't put together plans for tomorrow either, because TEPCO's power outage schedule is uncertain. We are struggling to gather information.”
Analysts said investors were likely to be risk-averse, especially given fears over a radiation leak at a nuclear plant north of Tokyo, which was rocked by a second explosion on Monday.
Shares in Sony Corp lost 9.1 percent after the company suspended production at eight plants in the affected region and said it was not sure when production would re-start.
Nissan's shares dropped 9.5 percent, with the automaker shuttering all four of its auto assembly plants in Japan.
Toshiba Corp , a conglomerate whose products include semiconductors and nuclear reactors, dived 16 percent, though it said it was starting the process of restarting a chip factory in Iwate, northern Japan. Hitachi , a rival nuclear power player, also fell 16 percent.
Shares in Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) plunged 24 percent amid a glut of sell orders.
“The potential impact from the situation at TEPCO's nuclear power plant is the biggest difference between this earthquake and the Great Hanshin earthquake,” said equities strategist Kiichi Murashima at Citigroup, referring to the Kobe disaster.
“There is a chance that a meltdown will occur at the plant in Fukushima. A reduction in power supply would of course severely impact Japan's economic activity,” he added.
The nuclear industry would also likely see an effect on long-term sales, he said.
Amid the destruction, there were some winners among Japanese stocks. Construction shares surged on expectations of booming orders to rebuild northeastern Japan, pushing the construction sector index up 6.4 percent.
Shares in general contractor Kajima Corp jumped 22 percent, while rival Hazama Corp rose 41 percent and home builder Misawa Homes was up 19 percent. - Reuters