Greece fears hammer world stocks, euro; bonds rally
NEW YORK (Reuters) - World stocks and the euro slumped on Wednesday as upheaval in highly indebted Greece and indecision among Europe's leaders about helping the nation fed fears the euro zone member is edging closer to default.
The euro tumbled 2 percent against the dollar and government debt of the United States and Germany rallied on a safety bid after euro zone finance ministers failed to agree on how to involve private investors in a second financial rescue for Greece.
Senior EU officials said a deal was now unlikely to be reached at a summit next week and was likely to be delayed until mid-July.
"It had looked like we were making progress on addressing Greece's problems but now it seems things are fraying at the edges. People are capitulating, taking a defensive posture and getting out of their risky trades." said George Davis, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.
The dollar's strengthening against the euro helped propel a more than 4 percent slide in the price of U.S. crude oil, hurt also by further signs of economic weakness.
In the United States, dismal manufacturing and housing data intensified fears of slowing growth.
"There are plenty of things you can pick to be worried about," said John Wilson, chief equity strategist at Morgan Keegan at Chattanooga, Tennessee. "You are seeing a capitulation and market sentiment is getting more negative."
Investors recoiled at the latest developments less than 24 hours after they had tip-toed back into stocks and other risky assets. Wednesday's flight out of growth-driven investments pushed the euro and U.S. stock indexes down near key technical support levels.
Bank shares led the global sell-off after Moody's Investors Service said it may put the credit ratings of French banks BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA), Credit Agricole (CAGR.PA)and Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) on review for a possible downgrade, citing the banks' holdings of Greek public and private debt.
The rating agency later placed the ratings of some units of Portuguese banks in Brazil on review for possible downgrade.
The MSCI world stock index .MIWD00000PUS sagged 1.9 percent a day after posting its biggest single-day percentage rise in two weeks due to less-grim economic data from China and the United States.
On Wall Street, stocks erased Tuesday's gains, which had temporarily slowed a six-week sell-off.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI closed down 178.84 points, or 1.48 percent, at 11,897.27. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX ended down 22.45 points, or 1.74 percent, at 1,265.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC finished down 47.26 points, or 1.76 percent, at 2,631.46.
As more evidence of an economic slowdown is likely to emerge, some analysts see a further decline in stocks.
"Even if it's in a soft patch, the slope of the U.S. recovery will still be disappointing and it will be an uneven performance," said Clark Yingst, chief market analyst at Joseph Gunnar in New York.
The expiration of the Federal Reserve's $600 billion bond program, known as QE2, at month's-end and disappointing quarterly company results could put additional selling pressure on stocks in the near term, Yingst said.
He forecasts the S&P 500 could fall 11-20 percent from its peak in early May.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters in Greece raged against a new wave of austerity after euro zone finance ministers failed to agree how to make private creditors contribute to a second bailout. Greece is seeking 120 billion euros in fresh aid.
The onus has now shifted to the leaders of Germany and France to forge a deal later this week.
Prime Minister George Papandreou offered to quit and make way for a national unity government.
"A resolution has to be met at some point in time," said John McCarthy, director of currency trading at ING Capital Markets in New York. "Greece can't continue along its current path, we all know that. The question is, 'What is the resolution?'"
The latest twists in Greece's predicament, combined with Moody's warning on French banks, knocked the euro lower.
The single-currency fell 2 percent against the dollar to $1.4178, for its worst day in more than a month.
Investor jitters rekindled a flight into low-risk U.S. and German government bonds.
The stampede into bonds knocked benchmark 10-year Treasury yields back below 3 percent, putting them on track for their biggest one-day drop since September. The 10-year U.S. yield touched a two-week high on Tuesday.
German Bund futures ended up 0.7 percent near a contract high set earlier at 126.35.
Safety bids also lifted gold prices. Spot bullion was last at $1,530.50 an ounce, up from $1,523.25 on Tuesday.
Increased risk aversion wiped out earlier gains in oil. U.S. oil prices fell $4.59 to settle at $94.81 a barrel after rising earlier on government data showing an unexpectedly large 3.41-million-barrel drop in crude inventory.