Monday, 14 March 2011

Japan quake death toll to rise but impact on global markets may be limited

The estimated death toll from the earthquake in Japan has risen dramatically. AFP/CNA reports:

Japan raced to avert a meltdown of two reactors at a quake-hit nuclear plant on Monday as the death toll from the disaster on the ravaged northeast coast was forecast to exceed 10,000.

An explosion at the ageing Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant blew apart the building housing one of its reactors on Saturday, a day after the biggest quake ever recorded in Japan unleashed a monster tsunami.

The atomic emergency escalated as crews struggled to prevent overheating at a second reactor where the cooling system has also failed, and the government warned that it too could suffer a blast...

The colossal 8.9-magnitude tremor sent waves of churning mud and debris racing over towns and farmland in Japan's northeast, destroying everything in its path and reducing swathes of countryside to a swampy wasteland...

In the small port town of Minamisanriku alone some 10,000 people were unaccounted for - more than half the population of the town, which was practically erased, public broadcaster NHK reported...

The national police agency said the confirmed death toll now stood at 1,597.

Reuters has a look at how Japanese markets and the economy performed following the Kobe earthquake in 1995. For the stock market in particular:

The Nikkei average fell on the day of the quake by 0.5 percent and then on the four days that followed. It continued to fall, losing more than 16 percent by the end of the quarter. However, one reason for the fall was concern over the rise in the yen and how that could undermine export earnings. By the end of the year, the Nikkei recovered all of its losses.

Tomi Kilgore notes that markets are usually able to shrug off major earthquakes and other natural disasters.

From the quake that struck Kobe, Japan in 1995 to the 2004 Indonesia tsunami, stock investors have quickly looked past the images of devastation to get back to business...

"These types of events, they're very sad and they're very alarming, but they don't have a huge impact on economic activity and momentum," said Christian Thwaites, president and chief executive of Sentinel Investments. "They kind of distract people from their terminals but I don't think people see them as big buying or big selling opportunities. Ultimately, they don't stop an economy in its tracks."

Bloomberg notes similar views even as it reports a plunge in stock prices at the Tokyo opening today.

Stocks in Japan extended losses as trading resumed though the worst earthquake on record in the third-biggest economy is unlikely to dent the two-year bull market in global equities.

The Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped 5.1 percent to 9,736.55 at 9:13 a.m. Tokyo time today as more than 100 stocks remained unchanged as the exchange struggled to open trading. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures retreated 0.6 percent. Lost production from the Tohoku region where the quake struck might not be enough to spur a recession, Bank of America Corp. said. Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa told reporters he’s ready to unleash “massive” liquidity starting this morning in Tokyo to assure financial stability.

“The purely economic consequences will be modest: some reconstruction, some more government spending,” said Charles de Vaulx, a manager at New York-based International Value Advisers LLC, where he co-manages the $1.8 billion IVA International Fund including Japanese stock. “No major international consequences, either, except maybe helping drive long-term rates higher. We do not expect to make any significant changes to our portfolio as a result of this tragedy.”

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