Investors worldwide sold shares on Thursday after they were spooked by unexpected weakness in China’s economy, with factory activity there falling in May.
In addition business activity surveys for the same month showed the eurozone headed for a second quarter of economic contraction.
That followed on from the head of the US central bank, Ben Bernanke, signalling that it could soon start scaling back its stimulus programme.
In Frankfurt Robert Halver of Baader Bank explained: “The stock market right now is almost entirely dependent on central banks’ monetary policy and in the United States, they don’t seem to know what they want, whether to pump more money into the economy or not. The markets are unsettled, and that means the monetary policy makers need to be careful about what they say. Monetary policy decides everything here.”
Japan was badly hit. The main Nikkei share index plunged 7.3 percent – its biggest one-day percentage drop since the tsunami and nuclear disaster of just over two years ago. The Topix index was not far behind.
That brought an end to a rally that has been driven by aggressive stimulus measures that the Bank of Japan unveiled in April.
The yen also jumped against the dollar and the euro, with the US currency hit by Bernanke’s comments and the eurozone data adding to speculation that the European Central Bank could cut interest rates further at its next policy meeting in June. .
On the commodity markets the Chinese factory data added to concerns about the outlook for global growth, sending the prices of oil and copper down.