While American investors were forced to accept the inevitability of the approaching recession and hard landing, Australian investors today were forced to accept the collapse of the resources boom story, with the BHP Billiton bid for Rio Tinto looking more and more like its highest profile casualty.

Our market fell 6% at one stage, and was trading around 5.7% lower, or just over 244 points shortly before midday. Copper extended its fall in Asian trading, shedding another 4.9% on top of its 9.9% drop overnight; oil was trading at just over $US73 a barrel in Asia and gold was up $US9 at $US847 an ounce.

Just after midday the market turned lower again and was off 6.5%, or more than 280 points.

Unlike a week ago when panic and fear dominated trading, this is investors shedding their last illusions that the global, US, European and possibly Australian economies won’t avoid a recession. If Australia has one, it will be lighter than what’s confronting the US, UK and Europe.

But the real gloom is in the US where the consumers have been hammered into submission.

In Asia, Japanese and other markets fell sharply after Wall Street shed up to 9% on the S&P 500 after retail sales slumped in September and the Fed produced its gloomiest assessment of the current state of the US economy for years.

And, in South Korea, an emerging drama with the currency, the won, dropping by up to 12% at one stage and the stockmarket falling sharply on reports that rating agencies were about to downgrade the country’s banks because of the worsening outlook. The won fell to a fraction under 1400 to the US dollar, a major support level that if breached, might see further losses. The sharemarket was off 6% in early trading.

In Australia, the National Australia Bank raised eyebrows by updating the market on its September 30 full year result: down 11% to around $3.9 billion on a cash earnings basis after the write-offs and losses of over $1.1 billion on investments in loss-making CDOs in the US.

The NAB said it was advancing its report 10 days to next Tuesday week. That means it will report two days ahead of the ANZ next Thursday.

Here BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto bore the brunt of much early selling because of Rio’s big change on its view of China’s economic prospects (‘taking a breather, the company said yesterday about the Chinese economy). Both stocks fell sharply in London where there’s considerable support for the BHP 3.4 share takeover of Rio.

Not helping was a report in the London Telegraph that Chinalco, Rio’s big Chinese shareholder, has had its stake in the miner ensnared by the collapse last month of US investment bank, Lehman Brothers. There seems to have been some sort of funding deal in place and Chinalco couldn’t unwind it before Lehman failed a month ago. It’s another example of Chinese Government controlled groups getting caught up in collapses and failures in the US and other parts of the world.

Rio fell 15% on the report and suggestions the problem could also de-rail the BHP offer. BHP fell 10%. Just after Midday, Rio was off more than 14% or $11.20 at $67.30 and BHP was down 12.6%, or $3.74 at $25.96.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey