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Japan's Nikkei Plunges 6.2%

BANGKOK -- The Tokyo stock market plunged Monday, its first business day after an earthquake and tsunami of epic proportions laid waste to cities along Japan's northeast coast, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage. Other Asian markets were mostly down.

Oil prices dropped to near $99 a barrel after the disaster threatened to send the world's third-largest economy into recession, crimping demand for crude. In currencies, the dollar was down against the yen and the euro.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average dived 633.94 points, or 6.18%, to close at 9,620.49 -- wiping out gains made in 2011 while hitting its lowest level in four months. Worries about the economic impact of Friday's disaster, including massive power shortages that could disrupt factories, triggered a broad selloff that hit all sectors. The broader Topix index was down 7.5%.

Shares of several major companies were overwhelmed with sell orders and had yet to trade. Among those, the Tokyo Electric Power , was set to fall by double digits as it struggled with malfunctioning nuclear reactors and a power shortage that led the company to announce rolling blackouts in parts of Tokyo and its suburbs.

Companies with nuclear power-related businesses such as those that build nuclear power plants, registered staggering losses, including Hitachi (HIT), down 16.2%, and Toshiba, down 16.3%. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries slumped 10% and Kobe Steel skidded 6.4%.

Stocks in other sectors also took major hits as investors dumped shares over concerns about economic production and consumption. Car makers slid as northeastern Japan is a major center for auto production, complete with a myriad of parts suppliers and a network of roads and ports for efficient distribution.

Major manufactures halted production around the country. Toyota (TMC) , the world's largest automaker, fell 7.9%; Honda (HMC) lost 6.5%; and Nissan (NSANY) dropped 9.5%.

Insurance companies -- many of which will likely face heavy claims for lost property and infrastructure -- also suffered sharp drops, including Tokio Marine Holdings, down 12.4%. Cosmo Oil, whose refinery has been on fire since the 8.9-magnitude quake, slid by a withering 21.6%.

Analysts said the prognosis for Japan's economy in the near term depended heavily on whether it could stave off reactor meltdowns at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Four nuclear plants in northeastern Japan have reported damage, but the danger was greatest at the Dai-ichi plant.
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