World stock markets took a beating Monday over fears that the U.S. economy was heading back into a recession just as the European debt crisis was heating up and the eurozone's economic indicators were slumping.
Any troubles in the world's largest economy cast a long shadow over global markets, and a report Friday that the U.S. economy failed to add any new jobs in August caused European and Asian stock markets to sink sharply Monday.
But the news from Europe was also discouraging. Wall Street, which was closed Monday due to the Labor Day holiday, braced for losses Tuesday after the yields in so-called peripheral eurozone countries — Greece, Italy and Spain — rose sharply against those of Germany, whose bonds are widely considered a safe haven.
Although retail sales in the 17-nation eurozone rose unexpectedly in July, a survey of the services sector Monday showed a slowdown across the continent for the fifth consecutive month. The purchasing managers' index for the eurozone showed the services sector was still growing — unlike the manufacturing sector — but only barely. That will add pressure on the European Central Bank to keep interest rates on hold when it meets this week.
"There's so much uncertainty, so much fear, that investors don't know what to do," said David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors. "I don't remember the last time stocks were so cheap and nobody wanted them."
Investors were also shaken by signs that the Italian government's commitment to its austerity program is wavering. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government has backtracked on some deficit-cutting measures, prompting EU officials to urge Italy to stick to its promised plan.
The difference in interest rates between the Greek and benchmark German 10-year bonds, known as the spread, spiraled to new records on Monday, topping 17.3 percentage points. Yields on the Greek bonds were above 18 percent.
Mario Draghi, the incoming chief of the European Central Bank, told a conference in Paris that among the common currency's problems was a lack of coordinated fiscal policies and that the solution was more integration.
He dismissed the idea of eurobonds — debt issued jointly by the eurozone countries. Some have argued this would help weaker countries borrow more easily because they wouldn't have to pay such high interest rates. But stable countries like Germany would likely see their rates rise.
Instead, Draghi suggested the eurozone should adopt rules that would require more budget discipline.
Renewed jitters over the eurozone debt crisis also contributed to the slump in financial stocks amid concerns the banks would need to raise new capital. Deutsche bank closed down 8.9 percent in Frankfurt, while Societe Generale in Paris shed 8.6 percent.
The U.S. unemployment crisis has prompted President Barack Obama to schedule a major speech Thursday night to propose steps to stimulate hiring. Until then, however, traders coming back from the U.S. holiday weekend will have little to hold onto.
The August jobs figure was far below economists' already tepid expectations for 93,000 new U.S. jobs and renewed concerns that the U.S. recovery is not only slowing but actually unwinding. U.S. hiring figures for June and July were also revised lower, only adding to the gloom.
Many traders have already pulled out of any risky investments — such as stocks, particularly financial ones, the euro and emerging market currencies — and pile into safe havens: U.S. Treasuries, the dollar, the Japanese yen and gold.
With Wall Street closed, investors focused their selling in Asia and Europe, where the equity losses Monday were some of the heaviest this year.
"We've got some rough riding ahead," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago, adding he was "concerned that we could see a second wave of selling when most traders are back at their desks."
Dow futures were down 1.8 percent at 11,010 points while the broader S&P 500 futures were 2.0 lower at 1,145.70.
After Asian indexes closed lower, with the Japan's Nikkei 225 shedding 1.9 percent, European shares booked sharp losses. Britain's FTSE 100 closed the day down 3.6 percent to 5,102.58. Germany's DAX slumped a massive 5.3 percent to 5,246.18, and France's CAC-40 tumbled 4.7 percent to 2,999.54.
The health of the U.S. economy is crucial for the wider world because consumer spending there accounts for a fifth of global economic activity. The U.S. imports huge amounts from Japan and China and is closely linked at all levels with the European market. The U.S. has seen a slump in consumer and business sentiments.
Traders were hoping for signs that the Federal Reserve might take action at its September meeting to support the economy — perhaps a third round of bond purchases, dubbed quantitative easing III or QE3, analysts said.
Banking stocks were among the hardest hit Monday, partly because the U.S. government on Friday sued 17 financial firms for selling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities that turned toxic when the housing market collapsed.
Among those targeted by the lawsuits were Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JP Morgan Chase & Co., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Large European banks including The Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays Bank and Credit Suisse were also sued.
In Asia, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 followed the broaden trend to close down 2.4 percent and South Korea's Kospi slid 4.4 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 3 percent. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand and the Philippines also were down.
In currencies, the euro weakened to $1.4100 from $1.4187 in New York late Friday. The dollar was roughly flat at 76.87 yen. Last month, the dollar fell under 76 yen, which was a new post-World War II high for the Japanese currency.
Benchmark oil for October delivery was down $2.12 to $84.33 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude fell $2.48 to settle at $86.45 on Friday.
In London, Brent crude for October delivery was down $1.63 at $110.70 on the ICE Futures exchange.