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Asian markets follow Wall Street sell-off

From CNNMoney and International
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Ali Velshi on stock market fall
  • NEW: Hong Kong's Hang Seng opens down more than 4%
  • Asian markets tumble after rout on Wall Street
  • Australia, Japan and South Korea all down more than 3.5%
  • BlackRock equity strategist: There's "total fear" in the market

(CNN) -- Asian stock markets are recording sharp declines Friday, extending a global equity sell-off after Wall Street had its worst day since the 2008 financial crisis.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng opened down more than 4%. Australia's All Ordinaries was down more than 4%, and Japan's Nikkei and South Korea's Kospi had also shed 3%

China's Shanghai SE Composite Index was down 2%.

The falls came after the Dow tumbled 512 points Thursday -- its ninth deepest point drop ever -- as fear about the global economy spooked investors.

"The conventional wisdom on Wall Street was that the economy was growing -- that the worst was behind us," said Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital. "Now what people are realizing is the stimulus didn't work, and we may be headed back to recession."

Read more about the U.S. stocks' sell-off

U.S. markets had been already sharply lower on widespread worries, including the weak job market. But the selling gained momentum, as Japanese and European policymakers stepped in with dramatic measures to shore up their financial markets.

All three major indexes tumbled more than 4% Thursday and erased all their gains for the year. The indexes have also pushed into "correction" territory -- defined as a 10% drop from recent highs. The Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 have all fallen 10% in just the last 10 days.

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At the closing bell, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 512 points, or 4.3%, with Alcoa, Caterpillar and Bank of America among the biggest drags on the blue chip index. Thursday's sell-off marked the steepest point loss since October 2008.

The S&P 500 was down a staggering 60 points, or 4.8%.

The Nasdaq lost 136 points, or 5.1%. Some of the better performing tech stocks, Apple, Google and Netflix were all down between 2% and 3%.

Fears about a global slowdown are at the forefront of investors' minds amid recent weak economic data. Early Thursday, the latest reading on jobless claims showed a large number of Americans remain unemployed.

Adding further to investors' jitters, Wall Street is waiting for Friday's jobs report, which BlackRock's Doll said was adding to the selling pressure.

The report is now a bit of wild card after it has come in far below forecasts for the last two months.

Economists surveyed by CNNMoney are expecting the report to show that the U.S. economy created 75,000 jobs in July, marking a slight improvement over the paltry 18,000 jobs added in June.

The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 9.2%.

Economic woes weren't contained to the United States. In moves that they hoped would tame financial markets, Japan's government stepped in to weaken the yen, and the European Central Bank decided to re-enter the European bond market for the first time since March.

Those decisions come just a day after Switzerland intervened to curb the Swiss franc's rise.

Markets nosedive amid 'total fear'

"It's true that we are in a period of a high level of uncertainty, not only in the euro area but at the global level," ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said in a press conference Thursday.

The ECB wasted no time and immediately started buying European bonds, while Trichet's press conference was still going on. But bond traders were quickly disappointed after they discovered the central bank only bought Portuguese and Irish debt -- not the Spanish and Italian bonds at the center of the crisis.

Read more about why Italy is at the center of Europe's debt crisis

The ECB also left interest rates unchanged at 1.5% and initiated a 6-month refinancing operation to add liquidity to European markets.

European stocks plunged. Britain's FTSE 100 tumbled 3.4%, Germany's DAX lost 3.9% and France's CAC 40 fell 3.4%.

In commodities, oil prices slumped 5.3% to $86.63 a barrel.