Saturday, October 8, 2011

U.S. stocks, euro slip after euro-zone downgrades

NEW YORK: U.S. stocks ended lower on Friday, but European and Asian equities markets mostly finished higher, after several days of gains supported by assurances that European banks would be recapitalized to help deal with a potential debt default by Greece.

After falling on Monday to the worst levels in 13 months, the three major U.S. stock indexes finished Friday's session with gains for the week -- helped by encouraging U.S. jobs data, which prompted some buying late in the day. But those gains quickly vanished as investors switched focus near the close to focus on downgrades of the credit ratings of Spain and Italy.

"The employment data was viewed as being relatively good, but this issue in Europe keeps rearing its head. We just can't seem to escape Europe's debt crisis," said Thomas Villalta, portfolio manager for Jones Villalta Asset Management in Austin, Texas.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended Friday down just 20.21 points, or 0.18 percent, at 11,103.12. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 9.51 points, or 0.82 percent, at 1,155.46. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 27.47 points, or 1.10 percent, at 2,479.35.

For the week, though, the Dow gained 1.7 percent, the S&P 500 rose 2.1 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 2.7 percent.

Helping the U.S. jobs picture, the U.S. Labor Department said on Friday that employers added more jobs than analysts expected last month. Non-farm payrolls data for July and August also were revised upward.

While the U.S. unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent, the government report supported other data that have eased fears the U.S. economy was heading into another recession.

European shares rose to a five-week closing high, with the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index of top shares up 0.7 percent at 947.63 -- up 2.6 percent for the week.

This week, European leaders showed more determination to fix problem banks, with the European Central Bank offering more help to struggling European banks through the purchase of covered bonds and with a renewed offer of longer-term loans to ward off a new credit crunch.

Worries about the euro zone's debt crisis have hit the market hard in recent months, along with concern about stalling economic growth in the United States and China.

World stocks measured by the MSCI All-Country World index ended the day up 0.46 percent at 285.68 and rose more than 1 percent for the week.


The credit rating downgrades for Italy and Spain knocked the wind out of the euro on Friday. Traders said anxiety about Europe's economy and fragile banks will likely continue to hobble it in the weeks ahead.

The euro slipped 0.3 percent to $1.3388 but was up slightly for the week -- for the first time in three weeks.

The U.S. dollar ended up against the yen at 76.85 yen and up against the Swiss franc at 0.9258.

The euro may get a boost if euro-zone leaders can cobble together a plan on Sunday to recapitalize banks facing hefty losses.

But Brown Brothers Harriman strategist Mark McCormick said the prospect of a euro-zone recession and an interest-rate cut were gaining traction after the ECB this week unveiled new funding plans to stabilize banks and the euro-zone economy.

"That means the euro probably doesn't get much momentum even on good news," he said. "A euro-zone recession is still possible and the ECB probably cuts rates before 2012."

The prices of U.S. Treasury securities fell on Friday, as the better-than-expected job growth in September dampened the case for more Federal Reserve intervention.

"This is clearly a vote for the slow growth camp rather than the recession camp, so there is small upward pressure on rates," said Leslie Barbi, head of fixed income at RS Investments in New York, which manages $30 billion in bonds.

The benchmark 10-year note fell 23/32 points to yield 2.07 percent, up from 1.99 percent at Thursday's close. The 30-year Treasury bond tumbled 1-14/32 in price for a yield of 3.01 percent, up from 2.94 percent late Thursday.

For the week, benchmark U.S. yields saw their biggest rise in three months. Ten-year yields moved back above 2.0 percent, and 30-year yields returned to 3 percent from historic lows.

The U.S. bond market will be closed on Monday for the U.S. Columbus Day holiday.

In Europe, German government bond prices also fell on Friday though safe-haven bids could return next week if euro- zone leaders fail to produce the plans for banking recapitalizations that markets are anticipating. Ten-year German yields rose above 2.0 percent to hit 2.03 percent.

Crude oil prices edged higher on Friday after the encouraging U.S. jobs data suggested the United States may avoid a recession. U.S. November crude rose 39 cents to close at $82.98 a barrel, while Brent crude for November edged up 15 cents to settle at $105.88 a barrel.

Gold prices fell around 1.0 percent on Friday, as bullion investors raised cash to cover margin calls amid losses in the other markets. Gold still recorded its first weekly gain in a month, closing around $1,636.00 an ounce. ' Reuters

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