Asia Markets

Japan stocks drop 5%, China and Hong Kong shares plunge beyond 3% amid oil price war

Key Points
  • Shares in Asia dropped on Monday, with major markets across the region seeing significant losses.
  • In the afternoon of Asian trading hours, the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract fell 22.91% to $34.90 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures also fell sharply by 24.71% to $31.08 per barrel. 

Stocks in Asia saw steep declines on Monday as oil prices plunged amid fears of a price war after OPEC failed to strike a deal with its allies on production cuts, adding to volatility already brought about by fears surrounding the coronavirus spread.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan fell 5.07% to close at 19,698.76, while the Topix was down 5.61% to end its trading day at 1,388.97. 

Mainland Chinese stocks saw sharp declines on the day, with the Shanghai composite down 3.01% to about 2,943.29 while the Shenzhen component shed 4.09% to 11,108.55. The Shenzhen composite slipped 3.786% to around 1,842.66.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index plunged 4.23% to close at 25,040.46.

South Korea's Kospi also dropped 4.19% to close at 1,954.77. Stocks in Australia tanked, with the S&P/ASX 200 down 7.33% to close at 5,760.60.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index fell 4.97%. 

The moves came as the yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell below 0.5%,  last trading at 0.4426%. The 30-year Treasury yield also hit a record low, breaching the 1% threshold for the first time in history, last trading at 0.8569%.

The Japanese yen, often seen as a safe-haven currency, traded at 102.37 per dollar after seeing levels above 108 last week. Gold prices rose in the afternoon of Asian trading hours. Spot gold was 0.36% higher at $1,679.90 per ounce after earlier crossing $1,700 per ounce. 

The uncomfortable truth … for a lot of investors is that there's really nowhere easy to hide
Bill Maldonado
Chief Investment Officer, Asia-Pacific, HSBC Global Asset Management

U.S. futures also saw sharp declines on Monday morning stateside. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1,255 points, pointed to an opening loss on Monday of about 1,300 points. S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq-100 futures also pointed to declines for the two indexes when they open on Monday.

"The uncomfortable truth ... for a lot of investors is that there's really nowhere easy to hide," Bill Maldonado, Asia Pacific chief investment officer at HSBC Global Asset Management, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Monday. 

"If you look at all the traditional kind of low-risk, risk-free assets, they're already very expensive," Maldonado said.

Oil prices plunge; OPEC+ 'looks dead'

Oil prices were watched by investors on Monday. In the afternoon of Asian trading hours, the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract fell 22.91% to $34.90 per barrel.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures also fell sharply by 24.71% to $31.08 per barrel. 

Shares of oil companies also saw sharp losses. Australia's Santos plunged 27.01% while Beach Energy dropped 19.39%. In Japan, Japan Petroleum Exploration fell 12.69%. Hong Kong-listed stocks of PetroChina and CNOOC plummeted 9.63% and 17.23%, respectively.

The moves came after Saudi Arabia announced massive discounts on Saturday to its official selling prices for April, with the kingdom reportedly preparing to increase its production above the 10 million barrel per day mark, according to Reuters.

Saudi Arabia's price cut followed a breakdown of talks in Vienna last week between OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, during a Friday meeting. The cartel had recommended additional production cuts on Thursday, but that was rejected by OPEC ally Russia on Friday.

The meeting also concluded with no directive about the production cuts that are currently in place, but set to expire at the end of the month. That effectively meant that nations will soon have free rein over how much they pump.

"OPEC+ alliance looks dead after OPEC failed to reach an agreement with Russia on further production cuts," Daniel Hynes and Soni Kumari, commodity strategists at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, wrote in a note dated Mar. 9.

Hynes and Kumari said the current production cuts "managed to support prices by keeping the market relatively balanced through a tumultuous period in the oil market."

"We now see the likelihood of production rising from OPEC+ members relatively high, even before the agreement (officially) expires," they said. "Russia stands out as the most likely to ramp up in the short term. Some of the smaller OPEC producers are also expected to raise output."

The worries over oil prices come as investors have already been jittery over the global spread of the coronavirus that has infected more than 106,000 and taken at least 3,639 lives worldwide, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.

Chinese trade data released over the weekend showed the country's January-February overseas shipments contracting 17.2% from the same period a year before, marking the steepest fall since February 2019, according to Reuters. Analysts polled by Reuters had projected a 14% drop as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted supply chains and dampened demand.

Reuters also reported that China reported a trade deficit of $7.09 billion for the period, versus an expected surplus of $24.6 billion.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 95.007 after earlier touching a low of 94.725.

The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6547 after an earlier low of $0.6318.

In economic news, Japan's economy shrank an annualized 7.1% in October-December, according to data from Japan's Cabinet Office released Monday. That was a larger decline than the first preliminary estimate of a 6.3% annualized shrinkage. It was also worse than economists' median forecast of a 6.6% contraction and the biggest fall since April-June 2014, according to Reuters.

— CNBC's Pippa Stevens and Christine Wang contributed to this report.