Markets fall as mood darkens over EU crisis pact

Filed under: Daily News,economy |

Stocks and the euro dropped sharply on Monday as investors worried that Europe’s new pact aimed at fixing the continent’s debt crisis would be insufficient.

Markets had rallied on Friday, when the European Union adopted a new fiscal pact meant to prevent a repeat of the financial fiasco that is now sweeping across countries that use the euro. But that optimism quickly dried up as traders sought more support for European financial markets in the short-term as well.

Credit rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch both said the deal proposed at last week’s summit failed to materially ease debt pressure in Europe.

“The announced measures therefore do not change Moody’s previously expressed view that the crisis is in a critical and volatile stage,” Moody’s said, warning that it still intends to review all EU governments’ ratings for possible downgrades during the first three months of 2012.

Fitch said in a report that “it seems that a ‘comprehensive solution’ to the current crisis is not on offer.”

Under the deal announced in Brussels Friday, all 17 countries that use the euro agreed to allow a central European authority to oversee their future budgets and impose tighter controls on spending. They also agreed to automatic penalties if countries spend too much.

Europe’s new “fiscal compact” also calls for the launch of a permanent bailout fund for euro nations in 2012 — a year ahead of schedule — and an additional €200 billion ($267 billion) to the International Monetary Fund for a separate emergency fund for countries in crisis. National central banks will provide the money to the IMF.

Analyts warn that the deal doesn’t help cut existing debt, which has caused Greece, Ireland and Portugal to need bailouts and is threatening Italy and Spain.

That loose end brought into focus the future monetary policy of the European Central Bank, and whether it would be willing to buy enough national bonds from troubled countries to keep interest rates down. The ECB indicated last week that it would not.

“Hopes that the ECB would step up its actions in support of its sovereign shareholders as a quid pro quo for institutional and legal changes that gave the ECB greater confidence in the long-run commitment of eurozone governments to fiscal discipline appear to have been misplaced,” Fitch said in its report on Monday.

Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 1.8 percent to close at 5,427.86. Germany’s DAX plunged 3.4 percent to 5,785.43 and France’s CAC-40 lost 2.6 percent to 3,089.59. Italy’s main stock index slumped 3.8 percent while its bond yields rose sharply. The euro fell sharply to $1.3183 from $1.3370 late Friday

Wall Street also traded lower — the Dow Jones industrial average shed 1.8 percent percent to 11,960.80 and the S&P 500 lost 2.1 percent at 1,229.26.

Although Italy managed to raise €7 billion ($9.4 billion) in an auction of 12-month bonds, its yields on the secondary market — where the issued bonds are then traded freely — continued to rise.

It’s 10-year bond yield was up 0.30 of a percentage point at 6.53 percent, after trading as high as 6.75 percent. The rise in the yields indicates investors are more worried that the country might eventually default.

Nationwide strikes hit Italy as unions protested against the austerity measures meant to boost confidence in the country’s financial future.

In Greece, international austerity inspectors arrived for talks on a second rescue loan package agreed weeks ago but not yet finalized. Officials from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are due to hold meetings at the finance ministry later Monday.

Asian stocks mostly closed higher, as they caught up with the gains made in Europe and the U.S. on Friday.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index jumped 1.4 percent to close at 8,653.82. South Korea’s Kospi added 1.3 percent to 1,899.76 and benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia also rose.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng swung from early gains to end trading in the red, albeit marginally, at 18,575.66. China’s Shanghai Composite Index fell 1 percent to 2,291.54 as a three-day economic conference of Chinese leaders got under way.

Benchmark oil for January delivery was down $1.46 to $97.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.07 to finish at $99.41 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 77.87 yen from 77.54 yen.