HONG KONG: Oil cast a cloud over Asian markets again Wednesday after prices fell back below $30 a barrel, hammering energy firms once more and sending stocks deeper into the red.
With the euphoria of Friday’s Bank of Japan stimulus but a distant memory, Tokyo led the regional losses followed by Hong Kong, where insurance giant AIA lost almost a tenth of its value at one point on fears China would tighten insurance rules.
Despite the turmoil at home China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) Wednesday offered to buy Switzerland’s Syngenta for $43 billion, which would be a record overseas purchase by a Chinese firm.
The plunge in oil prices to 12-year lows has sent shudders through world markets, helping wipe trillions of dollars off share valuations and even raising fears of recession.
Crude resumed its downward trend this week, jettisoning most of the gains seen in a rally last week fuelled by hopes for OPEC-Russian talks on output cuts.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate crashed more than 11 percent on Monday and Tuesday to fall back through the $30 level for the first time since January 21. Brent lost almost six percent in the same period.
On Wednesday early losses were pared on bargain-buying but dealers remain on edge ahead of a US report analysts warned could see a further increase in stockpiles. WTI was up 0.6 percent and Brent up 0.4 percent in late Asian trade.
Oil prices have crumbled about 75 percent since mid-2014, hit by a perfect storm of weak demand, oversupply, overproduction, a slowing global economy and a strong dollar.
After already taking a hit on Tuesday, regional energy stocks were buffeted again on Wednesday.
In Hong Kong, CNOOC shed four percent in late trade and PetroChina dived 4.1 percent while Kunlun Energy sank 2.8 percent.
Sydney-listed Santos lost 5.1 percent and mining giant BHP Billiton lost 4.4 percent while Woodside Petroleum fell five percent.
‘Talk of recession louder’
The losses followed other big guns in New York and Europe. BP fell 8.7 percent in London after it announced a loss of $6.48 billion last year and another 3,000 job cuts. Chief executive Bob Dudley warned: “We expect 2016 to be tough.”
BP’s American rival ExxonMobil managed to stay profitable but reported a 58 percent drop in fourth-quarter earnings and announced plans to slash its capital budget and suspend its share repurchase programme.
“The underlying fundamentals are deteriorating and the talk of recession is getting louder,” Chris Weston, chief market strategist in Melbourne at IG Ltd., told Bloomberg News.
“When you see BP coming out with disastrous results and when you see Exxon cutting back on expenditures again, you realise the implication weak oil has on economies.”
Tokyo’s Nikkei index sank 3.2 percent by the close, Hong Kong closed down 2.3 percent, Sydney ended 2.3 percent lower and Seoul shed 0.9 percent. Shanghai had slipped 0.4 percent by the end.
There were also losses across all other Asian markets. In early European trade London slipped 0.2 percent, Frankfurt dropped 0.4 percent and Paris lost 0.1 percent.
Hong Kong-listed insurance giant AIA lost almost 10 percent at one point in the morning following a Bloomberg News report that China would clamp down on the purchase of overseas cover.
However, it halved the losses in the afternoon to end 4.9 percent down. Manulife, another Hong Kong-listed insurer, shed more than five percent.
Also in Hong Kong Lenovo, the world’s biggest PC maker, plunged more than ten percent after posting its first fall in quarterly sales for six years in October-December, on the back of weak demand for mobile phones and computers.
ChemChina’s listed units soared on the takeover news. Fertiliser firm Cangzhou Dahua soared by its 10 percent daily limit in Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed Guangxi Hechi Chemical also jumped 10 percent.