A plunge in Chinese stocks dragged Asian markets down on Friday after authorities launched a probe into several brokerages and profits at the country's industrial giants sank far more than expected.
With Shanghai slumping more than six percent at one point, the sharp losses brought back painful memories of the panic-driven sell-off that struck China's equities markets in the summer, wiping trillions of dollars off valuations.
Shares crashed 40 percent between a June 12 peak and mid-August on fears over China's painful growth slowdown and profit-taking following a 150 percent surge over the previous year.
They have surged almost 25 percent since that trough after authorities unveiled various measures to prevent further selling -- including suspending new listings -- and government-back funds bought vast quantities of equities.
However, this month regulators said they would resume initial public offerings, fanning fears cash would be diverted from established chips and soak up liquidity.
Selling intensified Friday after Beijing said industrial profits fell more than forecast in October, and reinforcing worries about the world's number two economy, a key driver of global expansion.
Meanwhile, the country's biggest brokerage Citic Securities said Thursday it was being probed for suspected "rule violations" as officials crack down on financial firms in the wake of the summer sell-off.
And on Friday another giant, Guosen Securities, said it was being probed, while second-ranked Haitong Securities halted trading of its shares in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
"The biggest reason for such a sudden drop today is because of regulators' investigation of the top brokers. It has triggered a broader sell-off," Phillip Securities analyst Chen Xingyu told AFP.
"(The) investigation suggests the firms could be in some serious trouble," he said. But he added Friday's losses were "totally different from the routs in July and August".
- More woes for Abe -
Citic slumped by its 10 percent daily limit in Shanghai and almost five percent in Hong Kong, while Shenzhen-listed Guosen also tumbled 10 percent.
Shanghai's stock market ended the day 5.5 percent lower, while Shenzhen's composite index, which tracks stocks on China's second exchange, slumped 6.1 percent.
The sell-off reverberated around Asia, with Hong Kong ending down 1.9 percent, while Sydney lost 0.2 percent and Seoul shed 0.1 percent. There were also big losses in Singapore, Taipei and Manila.
Japan's Nikkei ended in the red after the government said prices fell last month, while consumer spending also dropped, overshadowing news that unemployment was at a two-decade low.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will come under fresh pressure from the results as his programme of big spending and massive monetary easing -- aimed at kick-starting growth and ending deflation -- struggles to kick in.
The economy slipped into recession in July-September -- for the second time since Abe took office in December 2012 -- and there is growing speculation the Bank of Japan will ramp up its bond-buying, which effectively prints cash in a bid to boost lending.
Daiwa Institute of Research economist Satoshi Osanai said Japan's economy was "out of gear", with most of Abenomics' benefits limited to the country's boardrooms.
"That's why consumption is still weak, even though employment got better," Osanai said. "(Any) economic improvement remains at the corporate level and has not spread to other areas, such as the household sector."
The shock across Asia pushed the yen higher as dealers looked for safer investment, despite the expected Japanese monetary easing. The Japanese unit pushed to a fresh seven-month high against the euro while a rally in the dollar versus the yen was also staunched.
The single currency continues to struggle ahead of an expected fresh stimulus push by the European Central Bank next week.
US markets were closed Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.
In European trade London started down 0.6 percent, Frankfurt dipped 0.4 percent and Paris lost 0.6 percent.
- Key figures around 0830 GMT -
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3 percent at 19,883.94 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.9 percent at 22,068.32 (close)
Shanghai - composite: DOWN 5.5 percent at 3,436.30 (close)
Dollar/yen: DOWN to 122.32 yen from 122.57 yen late Thursday
Euro/dollar: UP to $1.0624 from $1.0613