Pedestrians pass before a share prices board in Tokyo on January 15, 2008. Japan's share prices dropped 335.68 points to close at 8,102.77 points at the morning session of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Sentiment was pummeled across Asia after a U.S. government report showed retail sales dropped 2.7 percent last month, more than double the decline economists had expected and providing alarming evidence that American consumers are slashing their spending amid the global slump.
Meanwhile, a flood of negative news about international banks reignited worries about the financial system.
Deutsche Bank AG, Germany's biggest bank, on Wednesday reported a 4.8 billion euro ($6.4 billion) loss for the fourth quarter, blaming "exceptional market conditions." Analysts said HSBC PLC, Europe's largest bank, may have to raise $20 billion to $30 billion.
"Everybody is worried the global recession will hurt bank earnings because of bad debt," said Francis Lun, general manager of Fulbright Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. "And retail sales are very bad. Things are bad for everybody."
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 stock average fell 335.68 points, or nearly 4 percent, to 8,102.77, with sentiment further hurt by new figures showing that Japanese machinery orders, a closely watched indicator of corporate spending, plunged in November.
Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index tanked 4.7 percent to 13,049.19, and South Korea's Kospi dived 5 percent to 1,123.07. Markets in Australia, Singapore and Taiwan fell 3 percent or more.
The sell-off followed markets in Europe and the U.S., where the Dow Jones index fell 248.42, or 2.9 percent, to 8,200.14, its lowest close since Dec. 1. All 30 stocks that make up the Dow fell. The S&P 500 fell 29.17, or 3.4 percent, to 842.62.
Oil prices lost ground again, with light, sweet crude for February delivery off 45 cents at $36.83 a barrel in Asian trade. The contract lost 50 cents to settle at $37.28 overnight on demand concerns after a government report showed that crude inventories continued to grow.
In currencies, the dollar weakened to 88.99 yen, down from 89.13, and the euro fell to $1.3163 from $1.3199.