Thursday, December 15, 2011

GLOBAL MARKETS-Euro-zone fears sink stocks, euro, oil

NEW YORK (Dec 14): Stocks, oil, gold and the euro all fell on Wednesday, as sky-high borrowing costs for Italy fed fears of Europe's debt crisis spinning out of control.

The Federal Reserve's decision to do nothing new to support growth despite warning that Europe's debt crisis could hurt the U.S. economy added to a rush into less risky U.S. and German government bonds.

Global equity markets fell for a third straight day and the euro hit its lowest level in 11 months. Oil and gold prices were on track for their biggest one-day drop since late September.

"The main issue right now is the complete, absolute failure of the European Union to come to any kind of solution. They're back to where they started from," said Jeffrey Sica, president and chief investment officer of SICA Wealth Management in Morristown, New Jersey.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 131.46 points, or 1.10 percent, to end at 11,823.48. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 13.91 points, or 1.13 percent, to finish at 1,211.82. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 39.96 points, or 1.55 percent, to close at 2,539.31.

An index of top European stocks lost 2.1 percent, while Tokyo's Nikkei closed down 0.4 percent.

A Morgan Stanley index of global stocks slid 1.6 percent.

Investors were disappointed that the Fed showed no new urgency after its Tuesday meeting to launch more stimulus programs to counter a likely economic drag from the European debt crisis.

The euro was down 0.4 percent against the U.S. dollar at $1.2979. It broke below $1.30 for the first time since January after Rome's auction of five-year debt, with foreign- exchange markets still speculating that more rating downgrades were in prospect for euro zone governments.

The 17-member euro zone's currency is about 10 cents above its average New York closing levels going back to January 1999, when it first began trading, according to Reuters data.

"The problem hasn't been solved, so why would you want to buy the euro?" said Ronald Simpson, director of currency research at Action Economics in Tampa, Florida. "The problem is that nobody knows how this is going to end, including the politicians and policymakers."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament on Wednesday tougher budget discipline is needed to deal with the euro zone's debt crisis, which she reckons might take years -- not weeks --to resolve. Her remarks came after last week's EU summit, which investors concluded did not produce a comprehensive solution to keep the crisis from worsening.

Debt-laden euro-zone members are paying dearly for the political quagmire. Italy paid 6.47 percent at a five-year note auction on Wednesday. That was a euro-era record high for a five-year Italian sale, breaching the previous auction peak of 6.3 percent set in November.

On the other hand, Germany raised 4.2 billion euros in a two-year debt auction that fetched a euro-era record low yield of 0.29 percent, down from 0.39 percent at the last such auction.

Strong demand at the two-year German note sale and 30-year U.S. Treasury bond auctions on Wednesday underscored how desperate investors are to find a safe haven for their money.

The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury note rose 18/32 in price to yield 1.90 percent, the lowest in three weeks.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback's value against a basket of currencies, was up for a third straight day to its highest since January. It finished up 0.4 percent at 80.555, slightly off its earlier highs.

Investors' flight into the dollar and less risky bonds resulted in heavy losses in oil, gold and industrial commodity prices on worries about a slowing global economy.

Copper in London closed down 5 percent at $7,222.75 a tonne, a two-week low, while Brent crude closed down 4.1 percent, or $4.48, at $105.02 a barrel. U.S. January oil futures settled at $94.95 a barrel, down $5.19, or 5.2 percent.

Gold fell 3.9 percent to $1,566.79 an ounce, its lowest since late September, after the euro's decline encouraged more non-U.S. investors to take profit on their bullion holdings. - Reuters

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