Stocks fall in Europe, Asia over worries about Italy

Stocks drop 1 percent or more on major European indexes because of concerns about Italian debt. Japan limits losses with yen intervention. US stocks expected to open lower.

Paul Hackett/Reuters
A trader on the IG Group dealing floor rubs his eyes in the City of London last week. After big stock gains last week, stocks in Asia and Europe were down Oct. 31, 2011, mostly on concerns about Italian debt.

Global stocks gave up some of their recent gains Monday amid concerns over Italy's ability to get a handle on its colossal debt pile, while the yen slid in the wake of another attempt by the Japanese monetary authorities to weaken the currency.

Last week, stocks enjoyed one of their best weeks in months as investors breathed a sigh of relief that eurozone leaders finally presented the broad outlines of a convincing anti-crisis strategy. The three-pronged strategy of boosting the bailout fund, getting private creditors to take a bigger hit on their Greek debt holdings and the banks to raise more capital was largely viewed favorably by the markets, though details need to be ironed out.

Many analysts, however, think that Europe will end up having to do more, especially if bond market investors continue to ask for more in return for buying up Italian debt — a poorly received auction last Friday has fueled concerns over the country.

Italy is the eurozone's third largest economy and only Greece has more debt as a percentage of national income. Its debts dwarf the €1 trillion ($1.4 trillion) Europe's bailout fund will have at its disposal if last week's commitments are delivered.

"We remain sceptical that the plan will prove enough to restore financial market stability for long, with some signs of disappointment already starting to creep into the market as Italian 10 year yields continue to march above 6 percent," said Lee Hardman, an analyst at The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

Investors more cautious view of last week's plan weighed on stock markets Monday.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 1.1 percent at 5,641 while Germany's DAX fell 1.6 percent to 6,260. The CAC-40 in France was 1.1 percent lower at 3,282.

Wall Street was also poised for a lower opening — Dow futures were down 0.8 percent at 12,070 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures fell 1 percent to 1,268.

Earlier, the main point of interest in financial markets was the Bank of Japan's latest intervention to weaken the yen, which had hit a new post World War II high against the dollar.

The strong yen has dented earnings of Japanese corporations such as Nintendo Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. and hurt the economy's recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Finance Minister Jun Azumi said monetary authorities could continue intervening.

The dollar surged about 5 percent to above 79 yen for a while, before slipping back to 77.81 yen. Japan's export sector — whose fortunes are largely tied to the relative strength of the yen — rose abruptly. Isuzu Motors Corp. jumped 3.7 percent. Canon Inc. rose 1 percent and Nikon Corp. added 1.8 percent. Nintendo Co. gained 1.5 percent.

Those gains helped limit the losses on Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index. It closed 0.7 percent lower at 8,988.39.

Analysts are skeptical over whether the intervention will have a long-lasting impact. Previous efforts this year have provided short-term relief.

The intervention is likely to feature at a summit of leaders from the Group of 20 industrial and developing nations in Cannes, France, later this week. How to get the global economy moving again is likely to the main topic of debate.

There's also a lot of U.S. economic data to digest this week, culminating in Friday's monthly jobs report on Friday.

"This month is going to be another watershed insight into whether we are looking at a low growth environment or something worse," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. "To maintain the low growth environment view, the market is going to want to see positive employment growth."

The Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank also meet to decide on their monetary policies this week. Mario Draghi will on Thursday hold his first meeting and press conference as chief of the ECB and successor to Jean-Claude Trichet. Investors will be looking for signs that the bank is considering cutting interest rates and that it will continue its program to buy bonds. The program, used intermittently by the ECB, has helped keep bond yields down so far this year in Italy and Spain.

Elsewhere in Asia, mainland Chinese shares were mixed. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index snapped a five-session winning streak by falling 0.2 percent to 2,468.25, while the Shenzhen Composite Index added 0.5 percent to 1,040.93.

In Sydney, shares of Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. jumped 4.3 percent after a court ordered employees of the world's 10th-largest airlines back to work. The airline had grounded its entire fleet on Saturday following weeks of strikes by its workers, but an arbitration court on Sunday ordered an end to the strikes and canceled the staff lockout.

Oil prices tracked equities lower, with the benchmark rate for December delivery down 49 cents at $92.85 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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