The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

May 23, 2012

Markets swoon as anxiety about Europe takes hold

NEW YORK — The threat of a financial crisis spreading from Europe shook markets on Wednesday. The euro dropped to a nearly two-year low against the dollar. Oil prices sank to their lowest this year, and stocks took another fall.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 60 points to 12,443 at 3:15 p.m. Eastern. Hewlett-Packard fell 3.4 percent, the most of the 30 stocks in the index.

The Dow was sharply lower for most of the day, then moved higher in late afternoon trading. It was down as many as 191 points at midday. The Dow has lost 6 percent this month, nearly wiping away all of its gains for the year. It has risen only three days in May.

Analysts and investors have turned increasingly skeptical this month that European leaders will prevent Greece from dropping the euro or agree on ways to jump-start the region’s economy.

In Brussels, leaders of the 27 countries that make up the European Union met to discuss ways to keep the debt crisis in Europe from getting worse, including proposals to promote jobs and growth. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned Tuesday that the 17 countries that use the euro risk falling into a “severe recession.”

Plenty of good ideas to buttress Europe’s financial system have been floated in recent weeks, said Paul Zemsky, global head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management. Eurobonds could be sold by countries in the currency union to raise money for bailouts and banks. Some have proposed insuring bank deposits across countries that use the euro, a program modeled on the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

“There are all these great ideas,” Zemsky said. “But there’s nothing yet. There’s a lot of talk and no follow through.”  

Benchmark stock indexes dropped 2.3 percent in Germany, 2.6 percent in France and 3.3 percent in Spain.

The euro continued to fall against the dollar, reaching $1.25, the lowest since July 2010. Concerns about the stability of the European currency union if Greece leaves have knocked 5 percent off the euro this month. Yields on German government bunds fell as money shifted into low-risk investments.

If Greece exits, it could spread havoc throughout the global financial system. Bond traders could dump the bonds of Spain and Italy, sending their borrowing costs even higher. Banks in those countries could also be crippled if people start to yank money out of them, as has begun to happen in Greece.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of ‘what ifs’,” Zemsky said. “If Greece leaves, I know equities are going to be a lot lower than they are today. It’s not even close to being priced in yet.”

One stock that did rise: Facebook. The stock rebounded 3 percent to $32 after getting pounded for two days following an initial public offering that was plagued with technical problems and has drawn scrutiny from regulators. The stock is still far below its initial price of $38.

In other trading, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 9 points at 1,307. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 15 points to 2,824.

Benchmark crude lost $1.85 to $90.01 in New York, after dipping below $90. Prices hadn’t been below $90 since Nov. 1. Oil has plunged 15 percent in May as investors predict that the European economy will continue to slow.

The dollar rose and yields on U.S. government debt fell as traders shifted money into the protection of Treasurys. The yield on the 10-year note sank to 1.71 percent, close to a record low, from 1.77 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar and Treasurys often trade in tandem when anxiety hits markets. Traders from around the world sell foreign assets and then need to buy dollars before buying dollar-denominated U.S. Treasurys.

Europe’s struggles come at a time when Asia is also slowing. China’s economic growth fell to a nearly three-year low of 8.1 percent in the first quarter and factory output in April grew at its slowest pace since the 2008 crisis, raising the threat of job losses and possible political tensions.

Other stocks making big moves included:

— Dell fell 17 percent. The computer maker reported disappointing first-quarter results after the market closed Tuesday and predicted weak sales for its second quarter. Quarterly profit fell 33 percent on lower sales to big businesses, consumers and the public sector.

— Ford Motor rose 1 percent, a day after the company won back its blue oval logo, factories and other assets that were pledged as collateral for a massive loan taken out last decade.

— Guess Inc. rose 5 percent after its first-quarter results beat Wall Street’s expectations, and an analyst recommended that investors buy the stock.

 

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