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Surging yen sends Nikkei tumbling 3.5 percent ahead of BOJ meeting

Asian markets ended sharply lower Monday, ahead of central bank meetings in the U.S. and Japan this week and amid jitters over the upcoming referendum on whether the U.K. would remain in the European Union.

Japan's Nikkei 225 tumbled 582.18 points, or 3.51 percent, to 16,019.18, as fresh strength in the yen pressured stocks, with major exporters selling off. Shares of Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Sony closed down between 3.54 and 4.18 percent.

The yen strengthened against the greenback ahead of the Bank of Japan's (BOJ) two-day policy meeting starting June 15. Additionally, the yen is considered a safe-haven currency and increased concerns over the risk of a Brexit may be driving funds into the currency.

The currency pair traded at 105.83 as of 2:17 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels around 106.80 on Friday afternoon local time.

"The BOJ ... will likely delay a rate cut in the meeting, favoring a coordinated event when the government releases its fiscal stimulus package in Autumn," said Stephen Innes, a senior foreign exchange trader at OANDA Asia Pacific. "This delay will likely appreciate the yen over the short term if the BOJ remains sidelined."

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi closed down 38.57 points, or 1.91 percent, at 1,979.06. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index dropped 2.73 percent in the afternoon.

Chinese mainland markets ended lower, with the Shanghai composite closing down 94.65 points, or 3.23 percent, at 2,832.50, and the Shenzhen composite off by 91.26 points, or 4.75 percent, at 1,827.35.

Investor confidence likely took a hit after official data released earlier on Monday showed China's fixed-asset investment growth eased to 9.6 percent on-year in the January-May period, reported Reuters. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected investment growth of 10.5 percent for the period.

The so-called Brexit was also on the radar for Asian investors.

"We judge that market uncertainty will remain elevated all the way into the Brexit referendum next week, as it is becoming clear that support for both camps are near evenly divided," said Wei Liang Chang, an FX strategist at Mizuho Bank. "Perceived negativity of a Brexit event should keep risk positioning light, and we expect a continued pare back of risk assets in Asia, to an extent."

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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A poll published by the Independent newspaper showed that 55 percent of respondents believed Britain should leave the EU, compared with 45 percent who favored staying. The publication said it marked the largest portion of respondents who favored exiting since research firm ORB began polling the issue for it last year.

That helped to weigh the pound, which was trading at $1.4213 as of 2:19 p.m. HK/SIN on Monday, compared with levels between $1.4500 and $1.4600 in the previous week.

In another sign of the market's risk-off turn, U.S. futures were lower, with Nasdaq futures down around 18.50 points and Dow Jones industrial average futures off around 71 points in the afternoon Asia time.

The Federal Open Market Committee will begin a two-day policy meeting on June 14, with many market watchers not expecting a rate hike after a sharply lower-than-expected U.S. jobs report cast fresh doubts over the economy's health.

However, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits for the week ended June 4 unexpectedly fell, according to the Labor Department.

Lisa Wiltse | Corbis | Getty Images

David Kuo, CEO of The Motley Fool Singapore, told CNBC's "Street Signs" that one month's jobs data is not a trend. "The U.S. economy looks reasonably strong. The retail sales figures are good; unemployment is well below 5 percent at the moment."

The dollar advanced against a basket of currencies; the dollar index traded at 94.554 as of 2:21 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels around 93.565 on Thursday and near 94.181 on Friday afternoon Asia time.

In the commodities market, oil prices lost their hold on the psychologically key $50 level. U.S. crude was down 1.2 percent at $48.49 a barrel, while global benchmark Brent was down 1.07 percent at $50.00 in the afternoon Asia time.

Energy plays in the region closed down, with Inpex off by 5.77 percent, Fuji Oil down 3.34 percent and Japan Petroleum losing 5.41 percent. Chinese mainland oil plays were also lower, with Sinopec off by 4.04 percent and China Oilfield down 2.83 percent.

In company news, South Korea's Hotel Lotte, part of the Lotte Group conglomerate, said it is withdrawing its initial public offering (IPO) plan and will postpone the listing, reported Reuters. The IPO was expected to raise up to $4.5 billion; last week, prosecutors raided Lotte Group firms as part of an ongoing investigation, said Reuters.

Shares of Lotte Shopping, also part of the conglomerate, closed down 5.38 percent.

In another development weighing on market sentiment, on Sunday night, the U.S.reeled after at least 50 people were killed and more than 50 others were wounded after a gunman opened fire and took hostages at a gay dance club in Orlando, Florida. It was America's worst-ever mass shooting and law enforcement officials called it an incident of domestic terrorism.

Markets in Australia are closed for the Queen's Birthday public holiday.

U.S. markets closed lower Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 119.85 points, or 0.67 percent, at 17,865.34. The S&P 500 was off by 19.41 points, or 0.92 percent, at 2,096.07, and the Nasdaq composite lost 64.07 points, or 1.29 percent, to 4,894.55.