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Asian shares hurt by sell-off in commodity stocks

Asian share markets came under intense selling pressure on Tuesday, with Japan's Nikkei 225 index losing over 4 percent, following a steep retreat on Wall Street as below-view data intensified concerns about the health of China's economy.

In the previous trading session, official data showed profits earned by Chinese industrial companies fell 8.8 percent in August from a year earlier, underscoring persistent signs of headwinds in the world's second-biggest economy.

"[The sell-off today] is all about China," ING Financial Markets' head of research for Asia, Tim Condon, told CNBC. "The number yesterday has rekindled worries and [alongside the] weak data [in the U.S. overnight,] people thought that maybe what's happening in China is spilling over into the U.S."

Commodity shares were among the biggest casualties as fears of weaker Chinese demand sent prices of commodities tumbling. Further adding to the 'risk-off' sentiment was the near 30 percent slump in the London-listed shares of commodities and mining behemoth Glencore on Monday.

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Commodity-linked currencies also lost their footing, with the Australian dollar and the New Zealand dollar dropping 0.6 and 0.4 percent respectively against the U.S. dollar in Tuesday's Asian trade.

"Markets were shaken by the sell-off in Glencore shares as investment analysts started to focus on the extent of the company's debt amid a sustained downturn in commodity prices," Mizuho analysts wrote in a note issued earlier in the trading session.

Major U.S. averages closed sharply lower overnight, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite leading losses with 3 percent slump. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.9 percent, while the S&P 500 tumbled 2.6 percent to fall below the psychologically key level of 1,900 for the first time since August 26.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Nikkei skids 4.1%

The Nikkei index at the Tokyo Stock Exchange fell through the 17,000 level as selling intensified in the final hour of trading, and eventually settled at its lowest level since January 23.

Traders dumped companies with exposure to China, such as Kobe Steel which slumped 11.1 percent after the steelmaker cut its full-year profit target due to lagging demand from a slower-growing China and weaker metal prices. JFE Holdings and Nisshin Steel closed down about 7 percent each, while construction equipment maker Komatsu retreated 3.9 percent.

Energy producers JX Holdings and Inpex ended nearly 5 percent lower each, as crude oil prices hovered near the flatline in Asian trade.

Meanwhile, shares of Daiichi Chuo Kisen Kaisha were halted following a report by the Nikkei business daily that the bulk carrier is planning to file for protection from creditors as early as Tuesday amid a global commodities slump. The report took a toll on other maritime firms, with Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, Mitsui OSK Lines and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha down between 4.4 and 7.4 percent.

Index heavyweight SoftBank was the biggest loser in the telecommunication sector, down 6.4 percent at a more than two-year trough following news that fellow Alibaba shareholder Yahoo is set to spin off its 15 percent stake.

ASX loses 3.8%

Steep losses concentrated in the commodity sector took the resource-heavy S&P ASX 200 index down to a two-year low on Tuesday, with the bourse settling below the 5,000-point support level.

Market bellwether BHP Billiton crashed 6.7 percent to its lowest level since November 2008, while rival Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals plunged 4.6 and 6.5 percent respectively.

Alumina tanked 4.6 percent on the back of news that Alcoa Metals is splitting into two publicly traded entities.

Oil and gas related plays were also battered; Santos skidded 9.1 percent, while Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search closed down 5.8 and 3.5 percent respectively.

All four major lenders plunged nearly 4 percent each. Meanwhile, Qantas Airways fell 2.1 percent after investment research firm Morningstar cuts its rating for the stock to "reduce" from "hold."

A businessman watches a share price board in Tokyo, Japan.
Yoshikazu Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images
A businessman watches a share price board in Tokyo, Japan.

Mainland indices lower

China's Shanghai Composite index closed down 2.1 percent at a near two-week low, with industrials, materials and energy names leading the way down.

Anhui Conch Cement closed down 4.3 percent, while Maanshan Iron & Steel and Baotou Iron and Steel Group tanked more than 2 percent each. Heavyweight component PetroChina dropped 2 percent.

Among China's other indexes, the benchmark CSI300 Index finished 2 percent lower. Among the small-caps, the Shenzhen Composite and start-up board ChiNext eased 1.5 and 1.3 percent respectively.

Trading however remained light, with many investors staying on the sidelines ahead of the seven-day National Holiday that begins on Thursday.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index tumbled 3 percent to its lowest level since July 2013, with Glencore's Hong Kong-listed stock falling 30 percent.

Shares of Macau casino operators were also among the worst-hit after one of the gambling hub's biggest junkets Neptune Group said it may have to wind down operations if the number of VIP gamers continues to fall.

Neptune lost 6.7 percent, while other gaming operators such as Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment Group and SJM Holdings plunged between 6.8 and 9.4 percent.

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STI tanks 1.3%

Singapore's Straits Times index extended losses to touch its lowest level since June 2012.

In the previous session, the key stock index closed down more than 1 percent and chalked up losses of more than 20 percent since its mid-April peak of 3,531, to enter bear market territory.

"Market positioning is likely the main culprit behind the selloff. The soft leads from Wall Street and the short-trading week ahead in China may have prompted investors to reduce their positions," IG's market strategist Bernard Aw wrote in a note issued late Monday. "In terms of macro outlook, Singapore's growth prospects are not looking overly optimistic due primarily to China's weakening growth."

Commodity counters tracked the region-wide rout; Noble Group shaved off as much as 15 percent and Wilmar International sagged 4.2 percent to fresh lows unseen since 2008.

Indian stocks flat

The S&P BSE Sensex Index and the 50-share Nifty index pared losses swiftly to claw back into neutral territory, after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) lowered its policy interest rate by a bigger-than-expected move of 50 basis points.

The Indian rupee also narrowed declines to trade at 66.190 against the U.S. dollar, compared to around 66.34 prior to the policy decision.

Elsewhere in Asia, markets in South Korea remain closed due to celebrations for the Chuseok holiday. Taiwan, which was supposed to reopen on Tuesday, got an additional day-off after Typhoon Dujuan hit the island on Monday.