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Wall Street followed Japanese stocks lower at Monday’s opening bell, as investors worried about the impact of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 50 points in the early going. Shares in Europe mostly fell, led lower by shares of insurance and luxury shares on worries over the sectors’ exposure to Japan. Shares in other Asian markets were mixed.

The Tokyo stock market plunged Monday, closing down 6.18 percent on its first business day after an earthquake and tsunami of epic proportions laid waste to cities along Japan’s northeast coast, killing thousands and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage.

Major Market Indices

Oil prices dropped below $99 a barrel, with the disaster threatening to send Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, into a recession that could crimp demand for crude. In currencies, the dollar was down against the yen and the euro.

Concern over the economic impact of the earthquake and tsunami on the Japanese economy was compounded by fears about the long-term impact on power supplies after the earthquake damaged a nuclear generator in northern Japan.

About a fifth of the country’s nuclear power generation capacity has been shut down by the disaster. Thermal plants also shut down, forcing the world’s third-biggest economy to instigate rolling blackouts to conserve energy.

The Bank of Japan sought to alleviate the economic blow by boosting its asset-purchase program and injecting 15 trillion yen ($183.8 billion) into money markets to provide liquidity. By flooding the banking system with cash, the central bank hopes banks will continue lending money and meet the likely surge in demand for post-earthquake funds.

Investment bank Credit Suisse put economic losses from the quake at no less than $171 billion, although Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said it was too early to put together a firm figure to compile a supplementary budget.

Japanese ports handling as much as 7 percent of the country’s industrial output sustained major damage, disrupting global supply chains and causing billions of dollars in losses, industry officials said.

Shares of Tokyo Electric Power Co. nose-dived more than 23 percent as it struggled with malfunctioning nuclear reactors and a power shortage that led the company to warn it may need to ration electricity.

Companies with nuclear power-related businesses registered staggering losses, including Hitachi Ltd., down 16.2 percent, and Toshiba Corp., down 16.3 percent. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries slumped 10 percent and Kobe Steel Ltd. skidded 6.4 percent.

Auto and electronics makers were among the worst hit. Toyota, which said it would suspend production at all its car plants until at least March 16, reducing output by at least 40,000 vehicles, dropped 8 percent. Shares in Toshiba and Hitachi both sank around 16 percent.

Insurance companies — many of which will likely face heavy claims for lost property and infrastructure — also suffered sharp drops, including Tokio Marine Holdings Inc., down 12.4 percent. Cosmo Oil, whose refinery has been on fire since the 8.9-magnitude quake, slid by a withering 21.6 percent.

Meanwhile, industrial and materials companies rose on expectations that they will benefit from Japan’s eventual rebuilding efforts. Japanese construction company Kajima Corp. soared 22.2 percent and Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd. jumped 19.3 percent.

U.S. stocks closed the week on a high note on Friday, on relief that unrest did not engulf top oil producer Saudi Arabia, calming some investors who worried the market was entering a near-term slide. Stocks snapped back from early-week losses even as other markets were hit hard by the devastating earthquake in Japan. Oil refiners and industrial-related shares led Wall Street higher.

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