Tokyo stocks plummeted Monday, with the benchmark Nikkei stock index falling 2.31 percent to its lowest closing level since April 2009, as increasing risks of a Greece debt defaults sparked a global equity rout and the resignation of a European Central Bank (ECB) executive board member fanned fears the ECB has widening internal conflicts.
Euro-sensitive stocks took a battering, traders here said, as the yen hit a 10-year high against the euro.
The euro sank to 104.27 yen in Tokyo afternoon trade, marking its lowest level since June 2001, as fears rise over a possible Greek debt default.
Germany is bracing itself for a Greek default, sources with knowledge the matter said Monday, with authorities in the German government reviewing strategies to safeguard German banks should Greece fail to meet the budget-cutting terms of its aid package.
French banks maybe in the crosshairs of Moody's Investors Service for a possible downgrade due to the level of Greek holdings they have and domestic financial issues duly retreated on the first trading day of the week including Japan's top bank by assets, Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc.
But despite Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou saying he will do everything in his power to ensure his country avoids a default, news at the end of last week of the shock resignation of the ECB Chief Economist Juergen Stark compounded market fears that single currency region is once again in severe financial turmoil.
"Disagreements within the ECB are raising concerns that the debt problem resolution will be further delayed," said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities.
"Investors are also worried that a Greek default will weigh heavily on German and French banks," Miura said.
"The fact that stocks tumbled because of one event, the resignation of the ECB board member, shows that the worries over the eurozone debt problem are deeply rooted," added Masayoshi Okamoto, an equity strategist at Jujiya Securities Co.
The 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average tumbled 201.99 points from Friday to 8,535.67, marking the index's lowest closing level since April 28, 2009, while the broader Topix index of all First Section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange dropped 14.44 points or 1.91 percent to finish at 741.26.
Brokers said that firms reliant on revenue from Europe came under selling pressure as fears are rife that the companies will have to downwardly revise their earnings forecasts.
Market players said that the resignation of Industry Minister Yoshio Hachiro on Saturday, just one-week into his tenure, following insensitive remarks he made about an area close to the radiation-leaking Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, did little to inspire faith in Japan's delicate export sector.
Honda Motor plunged 3.7 percent to 2,259 yen and top automaker Toyota Motor Corp. skidded down 2.1 percent to 2,625 yen.
Sony was also among Monday's notable decliners, with the consumer electronics giant falling 3.4 percent to 1,504 yen, while Canon lost 2.3 percent to 3,410 yen and Olympus plummeted 6.0 percent to 2,093 yen. Industrial robotics maker Fanuc fell 3.4 percent to finish at 10,370 yen.
Japan's top-three megabanks lost ground on fears that banks with Greek holdings will be adversely affected should the turmoil in the eurozone hit the financial sector, as economists are predicting.
Top-lender Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc dropped 2.7 percent to 323 yen and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. lost 2. 4 percent to 2,080 yen. Mizuho Financial Group Inc., meanwhile, dropped 1.8 percent to close at 111 yen.
Some defensive issues didn't provide a safe haven for investors, including the heavily weighted Fast Retailing -- operator of the Uniqlo casual clothing stores -- the retail giant retreated 3.7 percent to finish at 14,050 yen.
Trading volume on Monday dropped to 1.69 billion shares on the Tokyo Exchange's First Section, falling from Friday's volume of 2. 20 billion shares, with declining issues trouncing advancing ones by 1,451 to 152.