Asian shares follow Wall Street down after poor US data

HONG KONG - Asian markets slumped Tuesday -- led by a four per cent fall in Tokyo -- following a huge sell-off on Wall Street as disappointing US manufacturing data compounded already deep fears about emerging markets.

Traders were also spooked by a warning from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who warned that the US borrowing limit will be reached on Friday, renewing fears of a Washington stand-off and possible default.

Tokyo dived 4.18 per cent, or 610.66 points, to 14,008.47. The losses leave the Nikkei 14 per cent down since the start of the year, having surged 57 per cent in 2013 to mark its best year in four decades.

Seoul fell 1.73 per cent, or 33.11 points at 1,886.85 and Sydney lost 1.75 per cent, or 90.8 points, to 5,097.1, while Wellington was 0.97 per cent, or 46.88 points, lower at 4,802.62.

In the afternoon Hong Kong sank 2.15 per cent.

Shanghai and Taipei were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

US stocks took a hammering on Monday after the Institute for Supply Management said its purchasing managers index (PMI) of manufacturing activity fell to 51.3 in January from 56.5 in December. A figure above growth indicates growth and anything below points to contraction.

On Wall Street the Dow closed down 2.08 per cent, the S&P 500 fell 2.28 per cent and the Nasdaq 2.61 per cent.

The results -- following worse-than-expected jobs data in January -- raised concerns the US economy may not be as strong as initially thought, a worry for investors less than a week after the Federal Reserve said it would reduce its stimulus, citing signs of a strong recovery.

They also come as emerging markets are rattled by fears of capital flight caused by the Fed tapering as well as signs of weakness in China, a key driver of global growth.

China at the weekend released official figures showing its PMI fell to 50.5 in January from 51 in December and HSBC last week said its PMI for the country came in at a six-month low of 49.5.

Lew warns on debt ceiling

Credit Agricole analyst Mitul Kotecha said "suffice to say investors should steer clear of risk assets (such as equities) over the short term as the turmoil does not look like it will be over anytime soon".

"A combination of tapering, a confluence of country specific emerging market country concerns and weaker growth in China provide the backdrop for a volatile few weeks if not longer, ahead," he said in a note.

In the United States Lew said time was running out for politicians to raise the government's debt limit. Analysts warn that failure to meet its obligations could lead to a global downturn similar to the 2008 financial crisis.

"Congress needs to act to extend the nation's borrowing authority, and it needs to act now," Lew said in prepared remarks at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

He warned that officials would have to start using special measures after February 7 to keep the US paying its bills. While previous stand-offs have ended in agreement between Republicans and Democrats they did not come before causing global market turmoil.

In Hong Kong Chinese tech giant Lenovo dived 16.10 per cent on fears it may have bitten off more than it can chew with the purchase last week of struggling Motorola from Google for $2.91 billion.

The firm slumped more than eight per cent on Thursday in response to the news, before the stock market closed for the Lunar new Year holiday.

In currency dealing the greenback fell further against the yen after tanking to levels not seen since the start of December.

The dollar was at 100.89 yen Tuesday afternoon, from 100.94 yen late in New York and sharply down from 102.31 yen in Tokyo earlier Monday.

The euro bought $1.3527 and 136.48 yen compared with $1.3529 and 136.58 yen.

Oil prices were higher. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for delivery in March gained 16 cents to $96.59 and Brent North Sea crude for March was up three cents at $106.07.

Gold fetched $1,259.35 an ounce at 0640 GMT, compared with $1,246.50 late Monday.