Asian Markets Extend U.S. Rout as Traders Flee Equities

Asian markets plunged on Tuesday following a massive selloff in the United States that sent the Dow spiraling below the 11,000-mark for the first time since 2010.

In mid-day trading in Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 tumbled 4.4% to 8,694, while the Chinese Hang Seng nose dived 7.3% to 19,005.

Meanwhile, U.S. stock futures were deep in the red in electronic trading.  Dow Jones Industrial Average futures plummeted 271 points to 10,455, S&P 500 futures dipped 28.3 points to 1,083 and Nasdaq 100 futures slid 56.5 points to 1,982.

Selling was so veracious in the prior session that every Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 component closed lower.  Indeed, the blue chips posted their sixth-steepest point decline in history.

Market participants reacted to the first time to Standard & Poor's cut of America's pristine sovereign debt rating one notch to AA-plus on Monday.  The move sparked a slew of other downgrades of bonds linked to American debt, which also weighed heavily on sentiment.

Fears that the euro zone debt crisis was intensifying, prompting a move by the European Central Bank to buy Italian and Spanish bonds, also rocked traders' confidence. In fact, financial shares like Citigroup (NYSE:C) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) took the biggest fall on Monday.

Traders raced away from beleaguered equities and into safe havens like gold and Treasury bonds.  Gold recently jumped another $30.10, or 1.8%, to $1,743 a troy ounce after settling at a record high.

Energy markets extended a steep retreat. Light, sweet crude sank $4.35, or 5.4%, to $76.96 a barrel.  Wholesale RBOB gasoline slumped 8 cents, or 3.1%, to $2.61 a gallon.

A statement from the Federal Reserve -- which is slated for release on Tuesday -- is expected to be closely-eyed by Wall Street.  Analysts will be looking to see if the central bank signals plans to take measures to sooth shaken markets, or provide additional quantitative easing to assist the stalling economic recovery.