Japanese stocks plunged 10.6 per cent, posting the worst two-day losing streak since 1987, on reports of rising radiation near Tokyo, suggesting any deterioration at a quake-hit nuclear plant could trigger more panic selling led by hedge funds.
The yen tripped on talk of intervention and bond yields rose as investors sold debt to offset losses in the stock market. The scale and speed of the equity selloff, on record volume for a second day running, forced fund managers to sit on the sidelines.
"Even if we wanted to sell today there was very little we could do," said a fund manager at a Japanese fund, asking not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
"We didn't sell and waited sidelined because hedge funds were just dumping stocks in panic."
At one point the broader Nikkei plunged 14 per cent after Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the risk of nuclear contamination was rising at the Fukushima Daiichi complex on Japan's ravaged northeastern coast, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
Equity futures fell and the yen rallied as risky assets were dumped. The yen steadied soon after, raising suspicion that authorities had intervened. The Ministry of Finance declined to comment on intervention.
In contrast to Monday's trading, when construction stocks rose, none of the 225 constituents of the benchmark Nikkei average gained on Tuesday. The broad TOPIX index of Japanese stocks has dropped by 16.3 percent this week, the worst two-day losing streak since the global equity crash of October 1987.
"All focus is on the nuclear crisis. In the situation where the crisis appears to be worsening, foreign investors, domestic fund operators are pulling out from Japanese shares," Hideyuki Ishiguro, a supervisor at Okasan Securities in Tokyo.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange's biggest companies have lost about $626bn in value this week. Volumes on the TSE first section were 5.77BN shares, a nearly 20 per cent increase from the record peak reached the previous day, itself the biggest since World War Two.
The Nikkei share average .N225 dropped 10.6 per cent to 8,605.15, the biggest percentage loss since the global financial crisis of 2008.
City A.M. Reporter