ON (AFP) - Global stocks faced fresh falls on Thursday after heavy losses the previous day as more grim economic and corporate news sent Tokyo slumping almost five percent to a one-month low. European equities also wobbled ahead of a widely-expected interest rate cut from the European Central Bank (ECB).
In Asia, a record drop in Japanese machinery orders provided a stark illustration of the fallout from the global credit crunch for the region's economies.
The ECB was expected to cut its main lending rate for the fourth time in a row amid expectations of a deep recession in the 16-nation eurozone. The decision was due at 1245 GMT. Analysts warned that Wall Street could nosedive when it reopens at 1430 GMT as investors digest crucial results from Intel and JPMorgan.
JPMorgan Chase & Co on Thursday reported fourth-quarter 2008 net income of 702 million dollars, down from $3.0b a year earlier, reflecting the damage done to the financial sector as a whole.
"US markets look set to continue their downward spiral after a day of heavy falls (Wednesday)," warned CMC Markets dealer Ian Griffiths in London.
"Intel and JPMorgan are the major highlights as fears continue to circle about the effect the global downturn is going to have on corporate earnings."
For full-year 2008, JPMorgan said net profit was 5.6 billion dollars, or 1.37 dollars per share, down 64 percent from 15.4 billion dollars, or 4.38 dollars per share, in 2007.
A fresh wave of selling hit US and European stock markets on Wednesday as an unrelenting flow of bad economic and corporate news sparked fears of a deepening global downturn.
In Asia on Thursday, Tokyo dived 4.92 percent, finishing at the lowest level since December 5. Seoul dropped 6.0 percent and Sydney shed 4.3 percent. Hong Kong lost 3.4 percent.
"We haven't had a worse day in the market so far this year," said Michael Heffernan, a strategist at Austock Securities in Melbourne.
Nearing the half-way stage, Europe's main stock markets held steady after falling sharply in earlier trade.
London gave up 0.16 percent and Paris shed a marginal 0.08 percent after earlier hitting the lowest point since December 5. Frankfurt eked out a gain of 0.16 percent.
The euro meanwhile slid to 1.3173 dollars as worries grew over Europe's economic health before the ECB rate call.
Most analysts expect the ECB to lower its benchmark interest rate by a half percentage point to 2.0 percent. Lower borrowing costs traditionally boost stock markets.
US stocks fell hard Wednesday on dismal retail sales data and renewed concerns over banks and other companies set to report quarterly results.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 2.94 percent to end at 8,200.14 points, extending a losing streak to a sixth session.
Sentiment in Asia was dented by news that Japan's core machinery orders, a closely watched barometer of corporate capital spending, plunged 16.2 percent in November from October, the sharpest fall on record.
Market optimism at the start of the year over president-elect Barack Obama's plans to jump-start the flagging US economy have now been eclipsed by fears of corporate bankruptcies and weak earnings due to the economic crisis.
Griffiths said, however, that "as we move into next week, the talk will once again be of the Obama effect. "The inauguration on Tuesday may offer further movement in the major markets but it remains evident the incoming President still has an awful lot to do to kick start the (US) economy back into life."
In Europe on Wednesday, London had lost 4.97 percent, Frankfurt shed 4.63 percent and Paris dropped 4.56 percent. All three markets have now wiped out all of their gains won since the start of the year.
US retail sales in December plunged 2.7pc, more than twice market forecasts, as consumers tightened purse strings amid the deepening recession, data showed Wednesday. Investors were also alarmed by news of a bankruptcy filing in US and Canadian courts by telecom giant Nortel, as well as a slew of earnings warnings in the banking sector. US mobile phone maker Motorola announced 4,000 job cuts.