Asian stocks fell early Wednesday after oil prices fell as much as 5.5 percent and Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's biggest publicly traded oil company, reported its smallest quarterly profit in more than a decade and slashed its forecast for capital spending this year. Oil company spending cuts have dragged shares of oil industry suppliers around the world since last year.
Japan's Nikkei 225 slumped 2.6 percent, South Korea's KOSPI 1 percent, Singapore's STI 0.9 percent and Australia's ASX 200 1.7 percent.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite fell from 1.8 percent to 2.2 percent.
Exxon profit plunged 58 percent in the fourth quarter amid falling oil prices while BP, the British oil giant, reported a $3.3 billion fourth-quarter loss. Exxon cut its forecast spending on exploration and refineries by 25 percent and for the first time in 15 years, suspended share buybacks, Reuters reported.
The U.S. oil benchmark dropped $1.74 per barrel to $29.88 per barrel, Reuters said. The global benchmark fell $1.52, 4.4 percent, to $32.72. While these are higher than the 12-year lows of mid-January, prices have dropped from over $100 a barrel over a year ago, forcing big players — like Exxon, BP and even Saudi Arabia — and countless small players to fire workers and shelve expansion, spreading the pain to the many equipment-makers and other industries that supply them.
"Not only did the (Exxon) earnings disappoint people, but the fact that they slashed [capital expenditure] so much and they (suspended) their share-repurchase program. It's a good indication that one more large oil company is not seeing an improvement in the environment," said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut, as reported by Reuters.
Global stocks have fallen, albeit at a slower pace than in early January, despite a surprise move to negative interest rates by the Bank of Japan on Friday. Earlier statements by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank acknowledged the market turmoil in January and weak growth.
"Markets have been on edge, concerned that the global situation is considerably worse than initially envisaged and that global central banks will be unable to combat deflationary risks driven by plummeting oil prices,” said Mark Smith, a senior economist in Auckland, New Zealand at ANZ Bank New Zealand Ltd., as reported by Bloomberg.