Markets today: Japan stocks off nearly 4% on Microsoft news

Asian stock markets fell Friday, with Japan's benchmark tumbling almost 4%, as grim news about major companies like Microsoft MSFT and Sony SNE underscored the depth of the worst global slowdown in decades.

Every major market in the region retreated, giving up most of the gains from the previous session when investors shrugged off gloomy economic data about China and Japan and sent stocks higher.

The growing corporate woes — which highlighted the beating some of the world's richest and best-managed companies were taking amid the global slump — weighed on sentiment across Asia.

In the U.S., investors were stunned by news software giant Microsoft Corp. was slashing 5,000 jobs — the first mass layoffs in its 34-year history — and had suffered an 11% drop in profit last quarter.

The pain spread to Asia, where Japan's Sony projected its first annual net loss in 14 years and job cuts. In South Korea, Samsung Electronics, the world's largest manufacturer of flat screen televisions and memory chips, posted its first ever quarterly loss Friday as the slowdown hit prices.

Adding to the gloom, U.S. unemployment and housing data released overnight was worse than expected and pointed to further deterioration in the world's largest economy.

"I don't see any signs of revival in the economy this year, definitely not," said Peter Lai, investment manager at DBS Vickers in Hong Kong. "There are too many uncertainties, too much negative news. I don't think the worst is over."

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average dropped 306.49 points, or 3.8%, to 7,745.25. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index eased 0.5% to 12,591.38, while South Korea's Kospi sank 2.1% to 1,093.40 points.

Elsewhere, Australia's main index dived more than 4%, Shanghai's benchmark was down 0.7% and Singapore's stock measure lost 0.6%.

In Tokyo, shares of Sony tumbled 7% to their lowest level in a month.

Nippon Steel, Japan's biggest steelmaker, lost 5% after saying it would cut production by the largest amount in its four-decade history as auto demand gets squelched by the global slowdown. Toyota shed 1.6% on news it's considering slashing more than 1,000 full-time jobs in North America and the United Kingdom.

In South Korea, Samsung dropped 3.9% after the company posted a loss of 20 billion won ($14.4 million) in the three months ended Dec. 31. The company earned 2.21 trillion won a year earlier.

Overnight losses in U.S. and European markets contributed to declines in Asia.

Investors in the West were disheartened by news U.S. construction of new homes and apartments slid 15.5% last month, closing out the worst year for builders since at least 1959. Meanwhile, first-time applications for unemployment benefits jumped last week to 589,000, the most since 1982.

Following a volatile session, the Dow closed down 105.30, or 1.3%, to 8,122.8. Broader market indexes recovered some of their losses but still showed big drops, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index off 12.74, or 1.5%, at 827.50.

With Wall Street futures edging lower, U.S. markets were poised to add to Thursday's losses. Dow futures fell 75 points, or 0.9%, to 8,017 and S&P500 futures lost 7 points, or 0.9%, to 818.50.

Oil prices were lower, with light, sweet crude for March delivery fell 84 cents to $42.83 a barrel in Asian trade. The contract rose overnight 12 cents settle at $43.67.

In currencies, the dollar slid to 88.64 yen, down from 89.03 yen. The euro was lower at $1.2883 compared to $1.3001.

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