HONG KONG: Asian equities sank on Thursday (May 18) while the dollar held losses on fears the intensifying crisis surrounding Donald Trump could lead to his impeachment and shatter any chances of his economy-boosting agenda being implemented.
Investors tracked the heaviest losses in New York since Trump was elected, following claims by recently fired FBI boss James Comey that the president pressed him to drop a probe into ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn's links to Moscow.
That came a day after it was reported Trump had divulged classified information to Russia's foreign minister, fanning further allegations about his own ties to the country's leaders.
While the tycoon says he will be exonerated by a newly appointed special prosecutor who will look into the claims, analysts said the uncertainty is rocking markets globally.
There is a growing fear that Trump's plans for tax cuts, big spending and red-tape slashing - which had fuelled a global equities and dollar rally following his November election win - will be thrown off course.
"It's all about President Trump this morning," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, said in a note.
"Impeaching Donald Trump was a pipe dream for the Democrats but extremely unlikely to most other observers until a few days ago," he added. "As it drags on, it hurts sentiment and recently often threatens the administration's agenda - especially around tax and infrastructure."
FEARS OF COLLAPSE
Tokyo plunged 1.3 per cent, with investors brushing off data showing Japan's economy posted another quarterly rise in growth, marking its longest expansion in more than a decade.
Hong Kong shed 0.6 per cent in the afternoon, Sydney shed 0.8 per cent, Seoul was 0.3 per cent off and Singapore also gave up 0.3 per cent. Shanghai lost 0.5 per cent, Wellington 0.7 per cent and Taipei 0.4 per cent.
In early European trade London dropped 0.3 per cent and Paris was flat while Frankfurt gave up 0.1 per cent.
"There is a very high level of uncertainty oozing from the markets but one thing that is crystal clear, investors now believe that at a minimum the rising US political entropy will jeopardise the White House policy agenda, and at the extreme, a Trump impeachment will lead to a flat out market collapse," said OANDA senior trader Stephen Innes.
The uncertainty fanned a flight to safe assets, sending the yen and gold rallying, while the VIX gauge of volatility - also known as the fear index - soared almost 50 per cent.
The dollar tumbled as dealers began to reconsider the chances of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike next month, which had been widely expected.
The greenback sank below ¥111 for the first time since the end of April before edging back marginally, while the euro - itself buoyed by easing uncertainty in the EU and a pick-up in eurozone economic fortunes - continued to levels not seen since Trump's election win.
- Key figures around 0820 GMT -
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.3 per cent at 19,553.86 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.6 per cent at 25,136.52 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 per cent at 3,090.14 (close)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 per cent at 7,480.42
Euro/dollar: DOWN at US$1.1145 from US$1.1157 at 2100 GMT
Dollar/yen: UP at ¥111.00 from ¥110.96
Pound/dollar: DOWN at US$1.2962 from US$1.2967
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 15 cents at US$48.92 per barrel
Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN 17 cents at US$52.04 per barrel
New York - Dow: DOWN 1.8 per cent at 20,606.93 (close)