November 8, 2012 / 5:25 PM / in 5 years

GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks fall on U.S. fiscal fears, euro down on ECB

* Wall Street shares slip further after Wednesday slump

* Euro hits 2-month low after ECB holds rates steady

* U.S., German government debt prices firm

By Richard Leong

NEW YORK, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Stocks on major markets fell further on Thursday as investors focused on whether the United States will tackle its fiscal problems, while the euro fell to a two-month low after the European Central Bank refrained from taking more action despite signs of further economic slowdown.

Despite U.S. lawmakers’ pledges to avoid the automatic tax rises and spending cuts due to start early next year, known as the “fiscal cliff”, doubts persisted as to whether Congress can agree on a timely compromise.

Fears that the world’s biggest economy may suffer a recession in 2013 as a result of the sudden fiscal austerity led to sharp falls stocks and crude oil prices on Wednesday.

“This gridlock adds to the uncertainty for markets. It shows the difficult problems Washington faces won’t get fixed anytime soon,” said Daniel North, chief economist at Euler Hermes ACI in Owings Mills, Maryland.

However, U.S. stocks stabilized Thursday morning partly on news of a rise in U.S. exports and a bigger-than-expected drop in jobless benefit claims, though the jobless claims were distorted by the storm that disrupted life in U.S. Northeast in the past week.

On Wall Street, the three major U.S. stock indexes dipped in late morning trade, reversing slight gain after a flat opening.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 29.41 points, or 0.23 percent, at 12,903.32. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 3.94 points, or 0.28 percent, at 1,390.59. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 10.81 points, or 0.37 percent, at 2,926.48.

Whole Foods Market Inc. reported income that matched forecasts, but shares of the biggest U.S. natural and organic grocery chain fell 4.4 percent to $91.69.

On Wednesday, the S&P500 stock index suffered its biggest one-day percentage drop since June, and the Dow closed at its lowest level since early August.

The FTSE Eurofirst 300 index of top European shares was little changed at 1,098.34 on Thursday, holding steady after logging its biggest one-day drop in two weeks on Wednesday.

FTSE component Siemens rose 2.1 percent at 80.53 euros a share after the German engineering conglomerate reported a smaller-than-expected drop in profits and announced a cost-saving plan worth 6 billion euros ($7.7 billion)

The MSCI world equity index was down 0.5 percent at 325.30 after Tokyo’s Nikkei lost 1.5 percent.

The ECB left key interest rate at 0.75 percent, disappointing some traders who had bet on more policy easing in the wake of recent comments by President Mario Draghi on the weak economic outlook and gloomy European Commission GDP estimates.

The absence of more ECB action spurred selling in the euro , knocking it down to a two-month low versus the U.S. dollar at $1.2719. It last traded at $1.2739, down 0.25 percent for the day.

The euro had been under pressure before the ECB decision even though the Greek parliament approved in the early hours of Thursday an austerity package needed to unlock international aid and avert bankruptcy, defying political rifts and violent protests.

“The euro will continue to weaken because there is no recovery in sight for Europe and the rest of the world continues to slip,” said Joseph Trevisani, chief market strategist at Worldwide Markets, Woodcliff Lake in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Spain, another heavily indebted euro-zone member, sold 4.8 billion euros ($6 billion) of new debt, completing its cash needs for this year. This meant Madrid can hold out longer before asking for international aid.

The somewhat encouraging news in Europe curbed safe-haven bids for U.S. and German government debt.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note held steady at 1.671 percent, while German Bund futures were up 20 basis points at 142.96.

In commodity markets, crude oil retreated from its session highs after tumbling more than $4 a barrel on Wednesday on concerns about weak demand for fuel as the U.S. and European economies face the risk of a protracted slowdown.

Brent crude was up 22 cents at $107.04 per barrel after falling nearly 4.0 percent on Wednesday, its steepest drop since December 2011. It was as high as $108.17 earlier.

U.S. crude rose 72 cents to $85.16, after losing nearly 5 percent in the previous session, also its biggest slump since December 2011.

Gold was on track for a fourth straight days of gains on safehaven bids due to worries about the U.S. fiscal cliff and Europe’s debt crisis. Spot prices on the bullion was up 0.45 percent at $1,724.06 an ounce.

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