With about half a million US jobs being lost every month, analysts are warning of another substantial contraction in the US economy in the first quarter of the year.

Analysts said the continuing rise in claims spelled bad news for consumer spending, which drives nearly two-thirds of US economic activity.

US investors remain unconvinced that the $787bn economic stimulus bill signed into law this week will have a significant impact.

That, in turn, is bad news for Asia, whose export-dependent economies rely heavily on the US market.

Earlier this week Japan, already in its worst recession in decades, reported its steepest economic contraction since 1974.

So far this year Japan's Nikkei has lost 15.8 per cent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng 11.6 per cent and the Dow Jones industrial average is down 14.9 per cent.